Sunday, November 27, 2011

Caras de Madrid: Gregorio Luna

[I am introducing a new type of post to the blog, which will be tagged "Caras de Madrid".  These are interviews with people who live in Madrid.  I hope they will expose readers to a new perspective, while allowing you to get to know some of the people I meet and interact with here.]

This week's interview is with Gregorio, one of my roommates when I studied in Madrid during the 2009-10 academic year.  I have translated this interview from Spanish to English.


Name: Gregorio Luna


Work/Study: I work as a night security guard for an official government office building.

From: I was born in Paris with Spanish parents.

How long in Madrid:  17 years.  I lived in Paris for 29 years until 1995, and the last 17 years I've lived in Madrid.

Languages:  I speak Spanish, French, and a dialect from Valencia.


Rebe: What has been the best moment/happiest time in your life thus far?  Gregorio: When I worked driving car prototypes for Citroen in France from 1991-92.  I had great coworkers, a good work environment, and you could drive really fast.  In fact, there were some tests where you had to drive as fast as you could!

What has been the worst moment/most difficult time in your life thus far?  When I met my ex-girlfriend.  Also, when I started working as an auxiliar of security, a job I had from 2005-2007.  I worked 12 hours a day and didn't make very much - 4 euro/hour.  I worked at least 440 hours a month.

What is your favorite book, movie, and music? My favorite book and movie would be anything related to World War II.  As far as music, I like a little of everything, especially rock and roll.

What is your opinion of the United States as a country?  And of Americans? It's a country of contrasts, from the most developed to the most archaic; where you will find quality research about psychology, medicine, and science; yet if you make one wrong move on the street you may find yourself face to face with a gun.  That's the impression that we have here [in Spain].

In general, the people are simple and nice.  Normal.  But too closed in and focused on themselves.  I think following this dynamic, the government makes the people think that the United States is the best, and that they shouldn't get to know other ways of living, other ways to enjoy life.  Watching the movie Sicko by Michael Moore got me scared about traveling to the United States.  If I'm traveling in the USA and get sick or have an accident and need to go to the hospital, I could be in serious trouble since I'm not a medically insured citizen.

What's Spain's biggest problem right now? The unemployment.  Justice is very slow.  The lack of employment is due in part to the globalization, and part to the ability to employ workers in countries where they work in slave-like conditions.  They work for a dollar or two a day, for 14-16 hours at a time without breaks.

What would you like people to know about Spain/Spaniards? That it's a country where the quality of life is very good.  You can live here without too much money, and it's a country that likes to enjoy their free-time and party.  Also it's very unlikely to have problems when you go out at night.  Here the people know how to drink.  It's very rare to have a fight between two drunk people at night.

What is the biggest problem in the world right now? Manipulation.  From this problem arises all of the rest.  And with how things are going in the world these days and in the geopolitical world, the problem is guessing how much time will pass until World War III comes - and that will be the last war.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In a boat in the Mediterranean.

What advice would you like to give to others? Everyone should study in a foreign country for 1-2 years.  I think one should travel to open the spirit of your mind.  You should travel so that you know things not because someone told you about them, but because you have lived it and experienced it.

Also, the United States needs to change.  It can't be the greatest world economic power and still have a health system like the third world.

Finally, consider this: in other developed countries employees have 4-9 paid weeks of vacation per year, and the companies continue to make money.  So how much are the U.S. companies profiting by only giving their workers 2 weeks of vacation per year?

Is there anything else you'd like to ask Gregorio?  Are there other questions you'd like to see included in future interviews with people I meet in Madrid?  Questions you'd prefer were left out next time?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Model Students

Today at IES P my "chatty boys' class" was held in the computer lab instead of our regular classroom so that I could use the projector to give my powerpoint presentation about Thanksgiving.  (Happy Thanksgiving, by the way!)

In all of my classes, I think the students get a lot more out of the visuals, rather than just listening to me speak.  Seeing pictures of gourds, cornucopias, and Indian corn was especially helpful, as most of my students had never seen these before.

In fact, in a class yesterday at IES M, when I got to the symbols slide of Indian corn, some students asked me, "But it's not real, right?  Is it painted?"

They were shocked to learn that it's natural.

But back to this morning: I'm setting up in the lab, and another teacher comes in and talks to the English teacher Paloma.  He mentions that someone will be here to take pictures around the school from 9am-11am today, including pictures in the computer lab.  Our class goes from 8:30 - 10:15.  We didn't know any more details, but Paloma had me start with the powerpoint just in case we had to move from the room later.

The presentation was fine, just like all the other times I had given it in my other classes.  This time I got to say "It's today" when I told them it takes place on the fourth Thursday in November.  Then I taught them how to tell time in English. (No worries, I taught them they can say "twenty AFTER five" instead of only teaching the book's "twenty PAST five"-- which you must read with a British accent in your head).

Then around 9:30, the same teacher that had come in earlier said they wanted to take pictures of the computer lab now.  Paloma and I got rid of our stuff from the front of the room, and the teacher began to instruct the boys on what program to open on the computers in front of them.

Paloma left the room and I followed, then headed to the library where I normally go after class to do two hours of prep work.  There was one other woman also working in the library.

The computer I use in the biblioteca

Then one of the jefes de estudios came in to look at the library, as the photographer was coming in here next.  The man mentioned that it looked a little empty.  I think the other woman was thinking of leaving (or fixing her hair), but the man told her that no faces would appear in the pictures. Bueno, mejor así.

The man left.  I continued to work.  Then five minutes later, the library doors burst open and in walks my English class of chatty boys.  Apparently the library looked too empty with just the woman and I, so after taking pictures in the computer lab, the same boys were asked to come fill up the library.

I got lots of "Hi teacher"s from the boys as they walked past me to fill in the seats.  Some sat at the computers, and the others grabbed books and pretended to read at the table on the right.  

Some of those boys were so good at keeping straight faces when the camera man was up in their grill!  Such serious looks.  I would have laughed for sure.  I just kept working on my stuff while the camera man took pictures, so my computer screen was filled with English -- not tech-school picture worthy!

I think the pictures are going to be used in advertisements for the school, but I'm not sure where or in what format.  It was just funny to see these boys posing in the library as model students.

And when the camera man was all done with the library shots, all of the boys got up and filled out of the room, following the camera man to their next location.  And silence refilled the library.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

N20: Election Day

Spain's General Elections were held today.

Someone here told me candidates can't start campaigning until two weeks before the election.  I've tried to find that in writing somewhere so I can share the fact with confidence.  The closest I've found is this article about the start of campaigning for the elections, which is dated November 4, so I think there's some truth to what I was told.

When I was in Pamplona two weekends ago I remembered seeing lots of advertisements all of a sudden for the PSOE (a political party).  When I got back to Madrid after that tournament, the metros were filled with these ads:

Cada voto vale, tú decides (Every vote counts, you decide)
Unión Progreso y Democracia

Pelea por lo que quieres (Fight for what you want)

If you go to El País's home page right now, this is what you'll see:

The Popular Party (PP) has won a majority of the votes.  Here are a few more graphics from the newspaper's website tonight:

Here's an article from CNN if you'd like to read more about the elections and their results.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Un torneo en Valencia: Sunday

This post is part 2 of Un torneo en Valencia.  Read part 1 here.

After getting to bed around 4:30am, we woke up at 9am in order to partake in the hostel's free breakfast from 9-10.  After getting up and going to the kitchen, I quickly learned that I should have slept an extra hour.  Oh well.

After packing up and checking out, we tossed our stuff in the car and started walking around the city.  I love walking around Spanish cities; everything is gorgeous.

While walking around, we stumbled across the Torres de Serranos (Serranos Towers), which happened to have free admission that day.  It didn't look so tall from the bottom, but once we had climbed up I discovered there were some great views of Valencia.

Once we walked back down to street-level, two players from Valencia and one from Barcelona met up with us, and we went to lunch together.

My first plate was Valencian paella, a well-known rice dish with meats.

First plate: Paella Valenciana

Second plate: Lomo

We headed back towards the car after lunch, and on the walk I saw lots of awesome graffiti/murals.

It was a safe, three and a half hour car ride back to Madrid.  I think I passed out a couple of times due to being so tired, but we were playing more car games for most of the ride.

As always, all photos can be seen on my Shutterfly page.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Un torneo en Valencia: Saturday

This is post one of two about el torneo en Valencia.

On Saturday morning I was up at 5:30am to go to an ultimate tournament in Valencia.  I had visited Valencia once before, in December of my study abroad year.

The cities that had teams attending were Valencia, Madrid, and Barcelona.

Hannah had rented a car, so four of us from the team could drive to Valencia.  I think three other cars of Madrid teammates went as well, but those were cars that they owned.

In the car ride on the way there, it came out that we'd be playing on the beach.  I learned this meant there was no need for the cleats I had brought; you play barefoot.

It was completely different playing beach ultimate - something I'd never done before.  The field was smaller than normal, and we played 5 on 5 (2 girls, 3 boys / team) instead of the normal 7 on 7 (3 girls, 4 boys / team).  It was very windy since we were right there on the shore, so luckily we got there early enough to practice throwing around.

Throwing around between games
With advice from teammates and lots of bad throws to Hannah, I finally figured out how to change my backhand throw into the wind.  I never had a good forehand into the wind that morning though; those would just catch air and float around and turn and crash...far away from Hannah.  I'll have to practice them at some point -  it's just hardly ever windy in Madrid.  Until the next beach tournament I guess!

Apart from all of the wind, the most difficult part of playing on the beach was probably running in the sand.  I have no experience doing athletic things on the beach, so I hadn't realized how hard it would be.  I'm not fast to begin with, but I felt so slow during the games.  To cut well you need to be fast and sprinting, but in the sand we had to adjust to the slowed running pace.  Even after a short point of only a few minutes, I'd come off the field out of breath as we rotated players.  My conclusion: It's really hard to run in sand!

As I've mentioned in previous ultimate posts, after post-game circles we usually play some sort of game with the other team.  One of these games is called "Ninjas," and I was finally able to capture pictures of people playing!

Playing Ninjas after our first game
You all begin in a circle, then on the count of three everyone takes a huge jump back, landing in some sort of ninja position.  One person begins, and they can make one movement towards any direction, moving the arms, body, legs, whatever.  You can move all of those things at once, it just has to be in one swift, fast motion.  The purpose is to hit the hand of one of the other players, but to not let your hands get hit by others.  If you hand gets hit, you're out of the game.  If the person to your left or right makes their movement towards you, you can make one defense movement, moving your hand away from them as they attack.

We played two ultimate games that afternoon, as we only had the space on the beach until 5 something.  But it was just fine with me that we didn't play 4-5 games like at the other tournaments I'd been to, as playing in the sand was exhausting, and my left knee wasn't in the best shape.

Los Quijotes in Valencia
At some point after 6, we had a late lunch with all of the players, cooked by one of the Valencian ultimate players.  Afterwards the five of us that were staying the night (the other Madrid players drove back Saturday night) drove around in search of our hostel to check-in and take showers.

It was another Hostelling International hostel!  Too bad my free year-long membership when I worked for the hostel in Madison has since expired.

Hostelling International!
After taking showers and changing, we headed back down to the other side of town, where Valencia's ultimate team had organized a night at a local bar.  We paid 12 euro each for unlimited beer, wine, sangria that night, as well as snack-y foods (tortilla española, ham, patatas bravas, etc.).

Hannah, me, Caroline
It was a fun night, though we didn't get back to our hostel until 4:30ish (am)... so it was nearly a 24-hour day for me!  Needless to say I was exhausted.

Would we play a hat tournament on Sunday? Or see more of Valencia before returning to Madrid?  Was I impressed by the city's graffiti or lunch?  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Un torneo en Pamplona

Last weekend was lots of fun.  Although transportation plans weren't finalized until Friday morning, eight of us (four girls, four guys) drove to Pamplona in two cars Friday afternoon for a tournament on Saturday.  No car accidents this time!

For those of you who might not know, Pamplona is where they have the running of the bulls each year, during the festival of San Fermín.  But no running with bulls for us last weekend, just running for discs.

We were a much smaller and less-experienced group compared to the Madrid players that went to Rivas-Zaragoza two weeks earlier.  Oh, and guess what?  3/8ths of us were sconnies!  Imagine my surprise when I found out the girl that organized the trip was from Janesville, and another guy was from Milwaukee. Represent!

It was raining when we got there Friday night, with 90% chance of rain on Saturday.  We got settled into our hostel, then walked to the town center to find some dinner.

Saturday morning expecting the worst, we bundled up and walked down to the university's fields.  Our first game was to start at 11am.  There were five teams playing in this tournament, so that meant every team would play four games and one rest (There were always two games going on at once, so four teams playing and one not).

Games at this tournament were timed with no half, and each game lasted 40 or 50 minutes (I don't remember what length of time they were using).  This meant games could end in a tie or one point apart, which isn't the case for MUFA games.

We played three games in a row, then it was our turn to watch, rest, and score-keep.  After that fourth game, I think there was some type of lunch break scheduled.  It was three something in the afternoon, and our team only had one game left to play.  We wanted to play right away, then eat a nice big lunch.

The team we were scheduled to play last, Pamplona, had just finished playing three games in a row.  We asked if they wanted to play right away, instead of after a lunch break.  They asked for 20 minutes or so to recuperate, and then we got our game started.

During the last game the winds picked up, and it started to rain a bit.  We finished just on time, and most of us walked back to the hostel in the rain, looking forward to a nice warm shower.  I don't think we won a single game that day, but it was good practice, and our team had great spirit.

On the walk back to the hostel, we stopped at a grocery store and got ingredients for a spaghetti dinner and some after-dinner beverages.

Javier and Mary cooking dinner
By the time we got back to the hostel and some teammates made dinner, it was sometime after 6pm.  This being our first meal after breakfast, we were starving!

It continued to rain all night, but most of us went out later to a couple of bars near the old center of Pamplona.  There were sketchy plans to play a hat-tournament on Sunday, but when we woke up and it was still pouring, and since many of our players got injured the day before, we decided otherwise.

We met up with a couple of Pamplona's players at a tortilla place in the old center that morning (at noon).

Then it was a quick walk through the rain, back to the cars for a six-hour return drive to Madrid.  My car entertained ourselves by playing the alphabet game, word association, a singing game (someone picks a random word, then we had to think of - and sing - as many songs as we could that contained that word in the lyrics), and "who am I" (one person picks a famous/well-known person, and the rest of us ask yes or no questions to try to discover the identity) during the ride.  

If you know more car games, please leave comments!  We need more ideas for future car rides.

I'm currently signed up to go to another tournament in Valencia this weekend (eastern coast), although I don't yet know how/when I'm getting there, nor where I'll be staying.  I'm not worried though, because this is how the other trips have been, and I know things will get figured out between now and then.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Off to Pamplona

I'm headed to Pamplona tonight for another frisbee tournament this weekend.

It will be a smaller group this time; not sure if we'll have enough players for a team or not (7).

I'll be wearing my seatbelt!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Updates galore: Frisbee, private English classes, more strikes

Summaries of the second and third week of my ultimate fall league can be found here.  My team (Río Aluche) has yet to win a game, but check out the summary from week two.  Do it!  Just click on the link and scan "Partido 2" for a familiar name...

Maybe we'll have our first win tomorrow night.

In other news, the other week I put up fliers in my neighborhood and an ad online for private English lessons.  I received a handfull of messages from my online post, so I was able to sift through them and follow up with what looked best.  The site I used (and would recommend if you're looking to give or take classes) is

I called the mother of one family before I left for my tournament the other weekend, and on the following Monday night I went to their apartment to meet the kids.  And now I have students!

There are two 13-year-old girls, friends, that I meet with on Tuesdays and Thursdays for one hour of conversation practice.  Then on Monday evenings I meet with the younger brother of one of the girls (he's eight years old) for an hour of conversation as well.

Originally I simply stayed for two hours on Tuesdays, first with the girls, then with the younger brother, but it ended up being too late for him.  And since I have frisbee Wednesday and Thursday nights, we moved it to Monday.

One of the girls is crazy about Justin Bieber and they both spend their free time chatting with friends on tuenti.  Reminds me of the middle school days and how we spent our nights chatting on AIM even though we'd see each other every day at school... ah young teens.

Today the students at IES M told me there's another huelga tomorrow, so we'll see if any students show up at IES P for class in the morning.  After class today, the afternoon English teacher at IES M told me that there are planned strikes every 15 days on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the rest of the school year (or until the Consejería de Educación makes some changes, but this isn't likely).  That's every other week.  My Thursday class at IES P has already missed enough classes, they're a couple days behind our Monday class.  I hope they show up tomorrow...

I love all the time I spend in the classroom, though I never expected all of these strikes.  This is quite a year to be teaching in Madrid.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Málaga (and Gibraltar)

This past weekend we had a puente, a longer weekend, since there were no classes on Monday (Oct. 31st) or Tuesday (Nov. 1st) due to All Saint's Day.

I wanted to take advantage of the extra days off and travel somewhere I hadn't yet been, but didn't have any travel companions to go with.  There is a facebook group for auxiliares in Madrid, and someone had posted the same thing: that they wanted to go somewhere but was looking for people to go with.

I ended up going to Málaga, Spain with Emily, another auxiliar I met through the facebook group.  Málaga is on the southern coast of Spain, along the Mediterranean.

We took a bus from Madrid at 11am Friday morning and arrived in Málaga around 5pm.  The ride went by surprisingly fast, and I was able to nap some as well.  

My name was creepily invitingly written on a chalkboard outside the hostel's front door when we arrived (The Melting Pot).

When we checked in, the guy working said that Emily and I got the best beds in the room.  When we asked why, he just said "You'll see".  Here's why: the two beds were in their own little nook, separated from the other eight beds.

Our corner of the room
We dropped off our bags then walked around for a bit.  Here are some things we saw:

Plaza de toros

Hungry, we returned to the hostel where every night they cook a dinner you can purchase for 6 euros.  It was a great deal - real  food.  So much real food.  Our plate included cous cous and vegetables, chicken kebob, a piece of steak, some other meat -- maybe chicken, tortilla española, and some bread.  It was all so delicious and I was completely stuffed after eating.  

We took a short nap, then wandered back out to the hostel's terrace where we met and chatted with other hostel guests until a bit past midnight.  We were both exhausted from the day's travel and decided to go to bed.

After a night of sound sleep, I could only smile when I woke up to this view from my bunk bed:

I spy... something that starts with the letter "b"
What's that a reflection of on the balcony door?  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, our hostel was 30 seconds from the beach.

The view from our room's balcony
After free breakfast at the hostel, we walked down to the center of town and met up with two other auxiliares that were in Málaga that day: Lily and Jamie.  The four of us walked down to the beach to hang out for a while, enjoying the sun's rays and some tinto de verano.

When the hottest part of the day was over, we decided to walk up the tall hill downtown to see the Gibralfaro Palace, and great views of the city.  Here are some of the views:

After walking back down the hills, Emily and I headed back to the Melting Pot hostel, while Lily and Jamie went back to their hostel.  We showered, changed, and ate again on the hostel's patio - this time ordering Argentinian empañadas for 2.50 instead of a whole plate of food, as I wouldn't have been able to eat that much again.

Then we went back downtown to meet Lily and Jamie for some cañas in the older part of town.  We sat outside at a bar, and saw a decent number of costumed people walk by (it was a Saturday night two days before Halloween, after all).

We didn't stay out too late (got back to the hostel sometime after 1am) because on Sunday we were planning to go with Lily and Jamie to Gibraltar.  Lily had reserved a rental car through the airport, so the plan was to meet them at the airport around 9am, then spend the day in the British territory of Gibraltar.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the territory, here's some wikipedia knowledge for you:
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of 6.843 square kilometres (2.642 sq mi), it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region.  
An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain "in perpetuity" under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It was an important base for the British Royal Navy; today its economy is based largely on tourism, financial services, and shipping.
The rental car plans fell through when at the airport we found out you need to rent it for a minimum of three days from one company, and the other company required you have a ticket for a return flight from Málaga (to prove you'll come back).

That didn't stop us though, as there was a bus that went from the Málaga airport to Marbella, and from Marbella we could catch a bus to La Línea de la Concepción (right outside of Gibraltar) for a total of about 11 euros.

Here's our first view of "the rock," still on the Spanish side.

We walked across the border to enter Gibraltar, only needing to show our passports to a British man at Passport Control.

Once we walked through passport control and crossed to the other side, BAM there's a British telephone booth, reminding you that we are no longer in Spain.

We're not in Spain anymore
Gibraltar was a strange place, clearly touristy, with overpriced food and souvenirs listed in pounds (though most places accepted pounds, euros, and U.S. dollars).

There were many different van companies that offered to drive you up the rock and take you to the main sites and lookout points for 25 euro/person.  Due to the fact that we didn't have unlimited time (nor energy) to climb up and walk around the rock for hours ourselves, we took one of the vans up the hill.

Our first stop was a lookout point where you could see Africa.

That's Morocco
Our second stop was at St. Michael's Cave.  Here's what two signs inside of the caves said:
In 1704, five hundred Spanish soldiers concealed themselves in this cave overnight before an unsuccessful surprise attack upon the British.  The cave may have had earlier military uses dating back to Gibel Tarik's invasion of Spain in 711 A.D.  During WWII the cave was prepared for use as an emergency hospital.  Fortunately it was never needed, but this provided the base for its conversion into a unique auditorium for events such as concerts, ballet, and drama. 
Inside St. Michael's Cave

The cave's auditorium
Next was a stop to see the monkeys.  Wiki tells us "Most of the Rock's upper area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to around 230 Barbary Macaques (commonly confused with apes), the only wild monkeys found in Europe.

Our driver had told us before we headed up the hill that we could take pictures with the monkeys on the rock.  When we were nearing this stop, he warned us that the fine is 500 pounds for feeding the monkeys, and also that we shouldn't touch them -- they'll bite.

When he stopped the van, I saw him slip a bag of peanut M&M's into his pocket as he exited the van with an umbrella.  Then he asked who wanted pictures with the monkeys.

He would point above your head with the umbrella, and a monkey would jump on your head to receive an M&M from the man.  About five seconds later, after you took a picture, he'd shoo the monkey off with the umbrella.

I was the last of us four to let a monkey climb on my head.  He bumped my glasses upon landing, but I eventually straightened them out.  What an experience!

There were some nice views from this stopping point as well.

We walked down the hill after our last stop, as we were told it was a pleasant 15-minute walk to the older part of town.  And that it was.

As it got closer to our bus's departure, we crossed the border and returned to Spain.  Saturday night had been daylight saving's time here in Spain (as our hostel so helpfully reminded us), but some of the clocks we saw when we returned to La Linea were still an hour ahead.  We were confused about the time, and walked to the bus station to make sure we were following the right clock, so as not to miss our bus. 

On Monday I wanted to spend every moment on the beach until we left, as summer has ended in Madrid, and these kind of beaches are nowhere to be found in Wisconsin.

I had fun dozing off under the sun and later playing in the water.  Emily and I got some kebap (yumm) on the walk back to the bus station, where we caught a 5:15pm bus back to Madrid, returning around 11:20pm.

It was a nice, relaxing weekend; I love how close Spain's coastlines are to its center.  As always, all photos can be seen here.