2014 New Year resolution Part Two/Conclusion

I guess I should have titled this my New Year anti-resolution check-in/conclusion. Anyway, the original post is here, check-in part one is here, and this is part two, and actually the conclusion since it is now 2015 and there can be no more check ins.

In June we went to Aragon. A weekend riding little bikes and supermoto at the Motorland track and some site seeing around the old city of Alcañiz, which is a fascinating city. It’s worth reading about.

alcañizgarage2

Little bike in the garage

In July we went to the South of France to catch a few stages of Le Tour (that’s the Tour de France for the uniformed), plus Montpelier beforehand. I’ll admit, I was disappointed in Montpelier. Overall, I found it to be shoddier and dirtier than I expected, and the city relies entirely too much on cars for my taste, despite its overground tram system. It had some interesting historical monuments and relics though, including an enormous aqueduct built in the 1700s.

Aqueduct in Montpellier

Aqueduct in Montpelier

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Next stop was Nîmes, where we spent a day visiting all of the intact Roman structures all over the city. An entire, intact Roman amphitheater stands in the center of town and is used regularly–weekly–for events.

Nimes amphitheatre

GP riding toward his roots in Nimes

The Spanish influence is evident in this city, where local ferias, flamenco and Camargue bullfights (where the bulls are not harmed unlike the bloodthirsty Spanish version) are a regular part of life.

Nimes symbol - a croc leashed to a palm

Symbol of Nimes – a croc leashed to a palm

The ancient amphitheater, built in the the 4th century AD, is still in regular and frequent use. Here they hold the many, many bullfights held in Nimes, and also concerts, recreations of Roman games, city festivals and other big sho

Tour du France juxtaposition

Le Tour juxtaposition

Roman structures in Nimes

Riding around Roman ruins

Nimes river

Downtown Nimes river

Le Tour finish

Le Tour finish

After watching the Tour finish from Nimes, we took the train to Carcassonne, another historically significant city, this time for its intact Medieval city center. We stayed just outside the newer part of town, along with plenty of media and press people, and rode our bikes into town and up to the walled in city for a look around. It was a rest day for the tour and we actually saw a couple of riders touring around the tiny, ancient walled-in city.

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EPO, it’s what’s for breakfast.

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Pushing my bike through the slippery cobblestones of Carcassonne

The next day we saw the start of the Tour stage, then rode along the old horse trails lining the Canal du Midi. These are rooty, tree covered paths built for the horses that pulled the merchant barges from town to town. The trails are now bike and walking paths and the canals, that cover France, are now primarily used by pleasure boaters who like to see the country via the canals. Not a bad idea, actually.

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A boat waits for the water to rise at the lock

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Crossing a canal bridge

The next jaunt was to see the final of the big three bicycle races, the Vuelta de España in August. Taking our bikes by train to Pamplona was our first stop, where we had a day to ride around and found ourselves riding along the Camino de Santiago trail unintentionally but to our great satisfaction.

Camino de Santiago marker

Camino de Santiago marker, the shell

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

We had drinks with our neighbor in Barcelona who happened to be in Pamplona for work, then the next day we caught the stage start in a park at the edge of town. The city celebrated everywhere with decorations (though nothing like the Italians decorate for the Giro), including a display of Miguel Indurian’s time trail bike hanging in the Santander bank arches.

Indurian's timetrial bike

Indurian’s timetrial bike on display in the central Plaza of Pamplona for the stage start.

vuelta stage start

GP’s stage start selfie

Alberto Contador Pamplona

The Vuelta leader and eventual winner, Contador

We then headed to Logroño, where the next stage actually started and finished. We stayed in town and hit the famous Laurel street for some serious tapas and pincho eating two nights in a row, and got up close and personal with the riders at the stage finish.

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Everyone’s favorite personality, ex-mountain biker Peter Sagan.

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In September I flew out to Rhode Island for a week to see my brother on his historical farm he is renovating, along with my father who met me there. I went to a dance performance on the grounds of one of the mansions out there, and crashed the after party. I had a nice long chat with the wife of the proprietor, a woman from Serbia, about Nikola Tesla, with whom she claimed to be related. I’m not sure I buy it but it was interesting none the less.

I then started to get quite busy with work so the traveling stopped until the years end (and yes, more or less broke my resolution to not ‘work hard’). We also moved and the new placed needed a LOT of work so that took precedence.

But for the last trip of the year, on December 25th we headed to New York. I had a real haircut in SoHo, visited museums, ate street food, finally saw the 911 memorial, paid way too much for a hotel room for six nights but didn’t am at peace with it because it was planned. (Next time I’ll stay at an AirBnB for half the price, and not in the theater district either!) New Years Eve we boarded a plane to Southern California for a week or two of sun (and dental appointments).

And that, my friends, concludes the 2014 New Year’s resolution updates.

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I’m like that foreign exchange student you made fun of

Remember that kid in high school? The one whose English you laughed at, not to mention the way she dressed and wore her hair? Maybe you said a few words to her in the lunch room or if her locker was located next to yours, but you usually didn’t bother chatting with her too long because she had trouble understanding you and, let’s face it, you had nothing in common. Now take that same situation and make her a couple decades older, add  couple of degrees and 5 additional countries to her list of places once called home and make the setting not school but work, and you have me. Well, first subtract all of her charm, and then you have me.

I write intensely in English all day and then must communicate and listen in Spanish. Sometimes people speak about what is going on to me and other journalists in languages I don’t understand and sometimes they speak Spanish, but sometimes I am not listening during those Spanish language moments. But if I am, I still have difficulty understanding (*sometimes. Let’s stick with the theme).

This becomes especially troublesome when unspoken rules regarding the particular content I am working on are present. I inevitably discover many of said unspoken rules by making mistakes. In fact, it is the only way I discover many of the rules, secret or not. This method of “training” is fairly standard here in Spain. And while the new kid on the block is floundering through said training, the cool kids are sitting back and rolling their eyes as mistakes pour in.

I am not suffering the cruel tricks that you all played on the exchange student, like helping her out with responses to teacher’s requests with phrases such as “why don’t YOU sit down, woman?”  In fact, the people I work with are nice as well as talented and capable. But  European corporate culture generally has remained old school in that there are no processes defined for how work gets done. Some have emerged organically, but nothing is documented and therefore nothing exists to pass on to any newcomers.  Meaning: There is nothing to base any training on, no way to share knowledge or lessons learned nor anything to base required skills and abilities on for a job that opens up. Those jobs are largely defined around the person that previously held the job. Which means when that person goes, so does special job knowledge.

Of course, there are old school water cooler conversations for knowlege sharing that happen…but because of the subtelties of language that I am incapable of picking up on and producing, I don’t attempt to initiate casual conversations about work, that in itself is too much work. And since I’m the weird language exchange kid, I am not included anyway.

I realize this is kind of a big bitch-fest, but in a roundabout way it is also praise for the US corporate model. Not something you would generally consider when you think of the word ‘homesick’, but for me it ranks big. Like the exchange kid, my best friends, confidants and family are in my country of origen. If I have a bad day or feel lonely, I don’t have a community at work to fall back on, at least not yet anyway. (As it happens, I am feeling particularly lonely after a fantastic time with my best friends in the US.  To top it off, one of my only two good friends here is leaving in July.)

So I don’t know what the exchange student did when she felt isolated. Probably nothing. Just waited to go home. Or maybe she called her mom. Me, I am just going to keep at it, there isn’t much I can do about the corporate culture and I don’t care if they think I am a crazy American. I am unmotivated to improve my Spanish because I am too tired, I am working hard. We will see this year if the trade off is worth it. If not, this exchange kid might just be heading back to her friends and family in her country of origin. (!!)

Silence at last. And amor.

Oh goodness, it has been over a month since I’ve posted anything. But I swear I have a good reason, I really do!

You see, besides being extremely busy with work, including some very strange and loooong hours, I finally moved! It felt like nearly a lifetime of waiting considering the relentless noise I had to deal with the past few months at my old place, that, coupled with how akin to WC Fields I have become with regard to children (and boy are they particularly loud here) made the summer hellacious in the pursuit of quiet. You never realize how much you need it until you don’t have it.

The new place is quiet, with plenty of light and views and no buildings facing either of my TWO giant balconies! So while my double set of sliding glass doors are on display to the world, I have more privacy than ever. In fact, if the closest building, which is taller than mine, ever entices one of it’s residents out onto their tiny balconies, and if I see they might be looking this way (they are far enough it is hard to tell) I catch myself thinking “hey, mind your own business, this is my space and I’ll paint these chairs in my bathrobe and towel-turbaned head while singing Journey if I want to!” and I go inside in a huff. Quite the turnaround from could-not-care-less snacking naked in my kitchen while the gay couple pretended not to notice from before.

So when I am not working I am doing all of the many things one must do when moving into a (rare) brand new building here. I had to buy an entire household of furniture, which, as fun as that sounds, is quite an ordeal. If I never see the inside of another IKEA, it will be too soon. Ikea here is like Walmart in the US, full of out of control shrieking children and throngs of people shuffling around, albeit through much narrower isles and non regard for personal space – you just shove through grandma and her clan strolling 7 wide through the 4 foot wide aisle, go ahead! They don’t care. They don’t say sorry when they elbow you in the ribs getting by as you are pinned against the LJUSÅS YSBY lamps and NYVOLL dressing tables and you don’t have to either.

I also have been busy setting  up gas, electricity and water, getting the water heater lit, let’s not forget decorating the flat which I have done very tastefully (including a very zen fountain to go with the new silence. My clothes are still in piles on the floor, but I have a little fountain, damnit.) and finally, the challenging task of establishing a connection to that thing they call the internet, which, by the way, I still don not have – I am tethered to my iphone to connect. This is because Internet companies are fucking ridiculously incompetent. I’ve been waiting a month for the installation people just to call to set up an installation, which of course doesn’t mean they will get it right or even do it the first time. So on that front, yay Spain.

The neighborhood has welcomed me with lots of love, manifesting in graffiti of the same theme, which I share with you here.

Old factory wall that remains in the empty lot beside my building, soon to become a park. The wall is staying.

North side of the building next to me, will be one entrance to the park.

Same artist, a few blocks away

Letter slot on a storefront after hours.

This tag was up so high I couldn’t get a good photo of it. It’s much cooler in person.

I’ll post more Love as I find it around the ‘hood!

Pet peeve or despicable rudeness?

So called pet peeves are annoyances that are particularly bothersome to an individual, but that seem acceptable to others. But is it still considered a pet peeve if it involves disrespect, poor manners or poor personal hygiene? I mean how can you call your stomach churning when a coworker or teacher leans over your shoulder and breathes their nasty, rotten smokers mouth into your nostrils a pet peeve? (You know the kind-that 3 pack a day, rotting gum smokers breath). Or that fact that you find people cutting you off mid sentence incredibly rude? Or when someone asks you a question that you thoughtfully and carefully answer to discover the person had no interest in an actual answer and didn’t listen to a word you said? Are those pet peeves – or can you be justifiably annoyed with what is actually rude behavior?

I am going to argue against my own feelings that these are examples of rude behavior and say that these are pet peeves – because while many North Americans might find these things incredibly disrespectful, they are are totally acceptable elsewhere.

For example, personal space. We North Americans (and others out of Anglo Saxon origins) hold our personal space sacred. Mediterranean Europeans are much more physical.  They stand closer, speak closer and touch each other more, hug and kiss and shake hands with perfect strangers, and God forbid you expect an Anglo Saxon to adjust to personal space norms in a place like Brazil, which is even closer than southern Europe. The touching and closeness is a very human way to be and can be looked at as group inclusiveness, which we all have a strong need for.  But the downside is that outside of greeting and chatting and having the closeness directed kindly at you, it is taken for granted that involuntary touching, bumping and even pushing is nothing that needs to be avoided.

People barge right past you here without so much as an “excuse me” or “may I pass?” or even “sorry!” In fact most people refuse to move aside from your trajectory, either forcing you off the sidewalk, into an oncoming group of people or, if you hold your line and do what they do, which is not move out of the way, bump right into you and brush/elbow their way through the crowd without so much as an acknowledgement. When I first moved here, I thought this was because Spaniards were horribly rude. The ricocheting off other people, couple with not smiling at strangers (a blank stare or look up and down is normal – which I have adopted, but that is another story) made me feel like I was in a sea of angry, bitter people who just didn’t give a crap who they mowed over to get where they wanted to go.

But… while the people who walk three or four wide on a sidewalk, essentially taking up the whole damn thing – this is super common with the older ladies here who even link arms to fully block any passage from behind- still makes me want to scream, shoving my way through a crowd can be liberating when I get in the right frame of mind. You see,  no one cares here if you whack them with your bag, elbow them aside, or shove them ever so gently so you can pass while they stand in the path of traffic. It is expected. So when you do let out a little aggression on one of the seven burly dudes coming at you, maybe leaning into one of them a little too firmly with the shoulder, well, they don’t care. No one ever turns around and says “hey buddy, watch who you are shoving”. They just keep chatting and lean into it along with you.

OK, I realize that may not be the best example – it’s  a cultural thing that may be considered rude or normal, depending on from whence you hail, though it is unlikely to be considered a pet peeve by anyone. But I included it here because 1) it’s entertaining 2) it goes along with the theme of  “one man’s inconsiderateness is another man’s normal behavior”. I’ll put myself in the spotlight next.

I know that I drive some people crazy because I speak so softly. I know this because people frequently say ‘what?’ to me after I say something. Or they more rudely might ask “are you talking to yourself?” or even “what are you mumbling?” which leads me to believe that they might be a tad annoyed. One would logically assume that I would just talk louder, but I really do have a quiet-ish voice and to project it takes a lot of effort. After a couple of hours of speaking at a level that, to me, is loud, I am exhausted. It’s like singing to an audience for hours. Add to it that my hearing is really sensitive –  a lot of times it seems to me like people are yelling when they are speaking – and you have got yourself someone who isn’t going to change her quiet world for the sake of everybody else, especially not for the assholes who ask me what I am mumbling instead of just saying they didn’t hear me. Ironically, I have met other people who speak really low or, yes, mumble, and guess what? I find it annoying, though not enough to maintain pet peeve status.

Outside of the misuse of their, they’re and there, my biggest peeve has to be when someone talks over me. You know like when you are talking or finishing a sentence and someone just starts talking? So you either stop or speak louder to drown them out? Turns out either way you lose, because then you are so annoyed you’re no longer thinking about the subject but how the person just cut you off mid sentence. Well guess what? Talking over someone is totally acceptable in certain places too. Anglo Saxons wait for each other to finish before speaking, and take turns holding the floor. Mediterraneans generally just talk as the thoughts occur and speaking at the same time is totally acceptable. Man, the reality TV here is incomprehensible, with 5 to 10 people frequently talking (or yelling,I am not sure which since a lot of talking sounds like yelling to me) over each other for up to three minute stretches. I personally don’t think this makes for good TV, but I don’t think anyone cares because TV here sucks.

So my point with all of this is – you can’t take things at face value when you are in a place you are unaccustomed to. This seems obvious, but until you understand why you consider something unacceptable, you might just write off a place or a people before you really know it.

On Learning Castellano

Something happened in Spanish class the other day that got me thinking about languages.

Whenever you mention to Americans that you speak another language, the first question usually asked is “are you fluent?” But really, how do you answer that question? Do they mean: Can you order stuff in a restaurant? Have a conversation in the supermarket? How about on the phone? Argue about politics? Each of those things take a different level of language understanding to which you could truthfully answer Yes to the question of fluency. When I learned German, I got to a point where I was dreaming in the language and forgetting words in English. I was fully immersed in the language, and also a lot younger, which makes a difference. Of course, I immediately forgot all of the language I spent over a year learning upon leaving the country.

When I moved to Spain at the end of 2008, I fully expected to be dreaming in Spanish in six months. Two and a half years later, I am finally reaching a level of proficiency where I no longer avoid certain social situations because I know there would only be Spanish spoken and I will not be able to hold up a conversation. Try that for three or four hours and you’ll understand that more than once a week is too mentally exhausting not to mention humiliating.

So I’ve been diligently attending four hour, five day a week Spanish classes since November (though I cannot make it every week, for example I took a six week break in December/January because I was in the US). I’ve been two three different schools of varying excellence or lack thereof. I also study every day for another hour. This is how much work it takes to learn a new language as an adult. There is no learning by osmosis just because you are surrounded by another language. You will invariably seek out your native language speakers at some point just to feel a connection with with people.

But classes are great, I love going to school. I feel totally at home with the wake up, go to class, study at home, go practice with someone in person over a coffee routine.  (Maybe that’s why I spent 5 years in University and another 2 in graduate school. Or maybe that was just to avoid getting a real job, I don’t know.) I love the international microcosm that the classes hold.  And I especially love when Japanese students are in the class. Not only because their cultural references are so different from the rest of the Western world (we picked a team name of Sharks, another team chose Bolts, and a third team who happen to all be Japanese students chose Mountain), but their fashion sense is awesome. Last year, I had a girl in class who one day wore giant clip on earrings, tube socks with shorts, and big Roy Orbison style black framed glasses with no lenses – just the frames. And that was just one day of many such delightfully fashionable outfits.

So anyway, my story about the other day: We had an exercise to do in class involving creating a name, slogan and advertising points for a fictional business to open in town. My partner (another American) and I chose “Internacional Casa de Pancakes”, our direct ripoff of IHOP, which would probably not be well received in any way by the Spanish since 1) they do not eat pancakes 2) they think our coffee is shit (which is true) 3)  their idea of syrup, indeed of anything sweet when it comes to breakfast, is either chocolate or caramel, and only chocolate or caramel 4) they don’t really eat butter either. So blueberry syrup on a stack of pan fried doughy disks with butter would be triply repulsive. But we persevered nonetheless, and we put blueberry syrup in our list of features to lure in the clientele. Except no one understood the word I was absolutely, positively sure was the word for blueberry.

I said to the teacher over and over: Mirtillo. Mirtillo! I spelled it out. No one recognized the word or what I was trying to describe. Finally the doubt crept in. Maybe those are the red berries, not the blue ones?  The teacher told me arándano. I looked it up: arándano. Where had mirtillo come from?

As you know, there are two official languages in this region, and occasionally, especially with food because I learn the names in the markets but sometimes words to do with household related things, I learn and use the Catalan word for something. Finca instead of edificio for building, pruna instead of ciruela for plum, and I don’t even know I’m using a Catalan word. Here, if you are speaking Spanish and throw in a few Catalan words, it goes unnoticed as everyone does that anyway. So I figured, ah ha, I used the Catalan word and my teacher is from Peru, so she didn’t recognize the word.

But I just looked up the word in Catalan for blueberry. It’s nabiu (nah- BEE). Mirtillo is Italian. I’m mixing three languages. I sound like my boyfriend when he tries to speak Spanish – it starts out OK then degenerates into a big mess of Italian/Spanish/Catalan. Everyone understands him, so it’s fine, and he doesn’t care in the slightest. But I want fluidity. I want no one to be able to detect where I am from and I want smooth, unhalted conversations on complex topics.

So I may be studying for the rest of my life. If nothing else just to keep what I have already learned in my head. But I like school, so I’m OK with that.

Arrival

On my flight from LAX to Spain, I actually slept around 5 hours on the plane even though I was stuffed in a full row of people, while others had entire rows to themselves! Whatever. I watched il Postimo and napped.

Then I took an earlier flight to Spain from my layover in London, which was dumb because I couldn’t buy the duty free stuff I wanted to give as gifts. Then of course, in Barcelona my bag never showed up. I had a pretty strong feeling that would happen, so I packed a hefty carry on with most of my essentials.

I took the train and underground to my tiny hotel room and only got lost once. This was in the main tourist part of town, La Rambla. I checked in find and went walking around, and went for tapas and wine around midnight. In the random restaurant I chose, I noticed a group of people with a big poster of an enduro rider. I wandered over to see what it was about, turns out it was Jim Pomeroy’s wife and a group of people who work for her. They had just spent the weekend at the Bultaco 50th anniversary! (Jim was the first American to ever win the European enduro championship). I hung out with them and they gave me a ton of gifts (but not the jerseys in the photos).

Pomeroy's wife and her employee - do you think he rides dirtbikes??

The next morning it was raining. Since when does it rain in October here? I would be leaving for Valencia that afternoon, so I had a walk around anyway and needed to buy a jacket since I still had no luggage to speak of. I was actually fairly happy I didnt have to lug it around. While strolling through the Las Ramblas, I came across a Communist rally in one of the plazas. Mostly young students, some music, a van with posters, and a lot of cops standing by.

Communist rally in the Plaza

I caught the train to Valencia with no problems, after buying a jacket that I think will become my most favorite EVER. And drinking many Cafe Americanos con un poco leche. This is why you always need cash in your pocket, to pop into a cafe/bar and belly up to some damn good coffee. The train was a crowded three hour ride and I had to sit facing some people, but I fell asleep so I didn’t have to look at them the whole time, always a good thing for me.

Got to the hotel, a crappy Holiday Inn express around 9pm. Right across the street was a big shopping center, of course it was still open, everything is open late here. Got some chocolate, water, bread, cheese and some cherry tomatoes. So far these are my staples and will continue to be until I find a permanent residence, but more about that later. I ended the evening feeling a little lonely and was happy my friend and John-Mark’s former coworker at Aprilia USA would be joining me in two days time. He was in France for work and has a friend on the Tech 3 Yamaha team that could get him a similar pass to what I would be getting.

The next day I headed straight out to change money and buy a prepaid phone – Best decision ever! Phones are essential in Spain and everyone exchanges numbers and sends text messages like crazy.

My staples here in Spain

My staples here in Spain