Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Bloginkle in Time, by Madeleine Bl'oggle

So I wanna talk about cool things and European things and stuff but first I'm gonna do some crazy weird time warping stuff and talk about other things. Maybe I'll start in the present and then work my way back to Europe; plan! So I'm living in an apartment. An old, scratchy musty one with an oven that barely opens and makes everything smell like eminent explosions, there's a secret badger gremlin inside-the-house nook behind a bathroom mirror, and all our wood floors make it look as if the previous inhabitants were sabre-toothed tigers who fought a lot and painted and spilled water and generally didn't take very good care of the floor. (Also they left dead gazelles in the bathtub.) (kidding.) (But they probably weren't very good with neighbors.) 

Also in the apartment, is a cat. His name is Simba Cat, and he is, what I like to call/have just decided to like to call, a little bit poky. I'm not sure what I mean by that, but we call him Mr. Bity, and sometimes I poke him and poke him and poke him for a while and then he bites me and then I smack him. Simba Cat and I get along great.

Okay now back in time to the post-Europe, pre-semester period. Let's see how I was filling my time upon my return from my summer of adventure, shall we?  (Keep in mind that past me is not aware of future me, so IHe can only use the further past as a reference point when in the past, so the idea of time is gonna get a little bit confusing and twistedly relative.)

But whatever, BACK TO AUGUST!

Brief foray from Europe, forward into the present day for some existential pondering: Every now and then, you have a moment of unexpected clarity. You'll be spending the day at home, drinking buckets of coffee and wasting hours brainstorming ideas for itunes playlists, when all of a sudden you look up to find yourself sprawled uncomfortably on the carpet in front of the television, lazily watching old Futurama but devoting the majority of your attention to the little bubble wrap sleeve of sorts in which you have submerged your arm nearly up to the elbow. 

In this brief second of perspectival conscientiousness, the only thought that crosses your mind is this one: "What am I doing?" You only have a moment to slip from this to further existentially oriented wonderings about purpose or identity before, as a natural result of the suddenly interrogative mode assumed by your brain, it is followed shortly by the question, "Is bubble wrap still effective at safely wrapping fragile packages after it's been thoroughly popped?" 

Diverted away from the initially reflective moment of reflection, you continue your productive day of noodling, twiddling, goofing, and boodling. The moment has passed, leaving nothing but a vague feeling of uncertainty and an inexplicably smug sense of self-despising(nessment). After another 30 minutes of poking holes in cereal boxes and sitting on couches in a variety of unconventional ways, even these vestiges of reflective emotions are gone.

So, in an unexpectedly poignant nutshell, that is what I've been up to since I got back from Europe.

 (that was weird. I feel like I'm in my own grossly remixed and disinterpreted self-narrated version of A Christmas Carol. Instead of being about Christmas there's Spain, and instead of a ghost of my old business partner there's a cat. I wonder what life-changing eye-opening conclusions I'm supposed to be coming to as a result of JacobSimba CatMarley's intervention? Don't neglect my relationships with family and friends in favor of my schoolwork or I'll end up doing nothing with my time but eating fancy feast, sticking my head through the blinds at random passers-by, and eating the toes of any unfortunate souls who dare enter my abode and not let me paw at their faces?)

This font's name is Trebuchet. Trebuchet will be my Spain-Me font. Now back to youme, Spain-Me!  (I'm so sorry. I think whenever I don't blog for a long time my blog-me gets kind of crazy and rabid from being all cooped up, so when heI finally get a chance to share, the cabin fever is a little bit debilitating and he's am all cramped up from hiding somewhere in my grey matter so he be a little wacky and full of himself for a bit.)

While in Spain I had the delightful chance to go to Barcelona to meet up with a German old super-hero friend of mine. After realizing that Spain is huge (as I've covered in a previous blog) and that taking a train or bus from Sevilla to Barcelona would be cray, I booked a flight on the mother of all cheap airlines: RyanAir.  This means that for the price of a delightful 2-course meal with dessert, you get a seat on an airplane and as much luggage as you can stuff into a backpack, provided that you then hold onto the backpack for dear life; If any of the supposedly well-meaning airport staff reach for it or say something about its size or weight, you point to the people behind you and accuse them of harboring a bomb. Or shampoo. You can be pretty ambiguous about this actually, airport security is crazy.

Once on the plane, of course, you are the captive audience of RyanAir for 2 hours and 58 minutes, and the flight attendants make full use of that time. From the moment that the plane starts to taxi down the runway, salesmen dressed like flight attendants murmur into the microphone constantly about newspapers or alcohol or toasters or train tickets or whatever else they think you could be threatened into buying. Your challenge is to ignore everything anyone says, keep your eyes pointed away from the aisleways, and pretend to be asleep.  

Once getting to Barcelona, however, I realized that I had turned my phone off in an attempt to appear like I was Spanish and knew what I was doing, which radically failed when I couldn't turn it back on without the special code that I'd left in Sevilla, so I was at the airport without being able to contact my friend or any idea of how to get properly from the airport to the hotel without spending a fortune on a taxi ride.

After awkwardly bumming around in the Barcelona airport around 11 at night, buying some coffee, desperately trying to gather enough fragments of sparsely scattered wifi to make facebook contact like a starving farmer looking through an abandoned mill for enough scraps of wheat to put together a single biscuit, I gave up and got on a bus. 

After a stop or two I panicked and got out searching for a taxi, anxious to find someone who had a working knowledge of Barcelonan geography and could thus ferry me to my destination. 

I found a taxi, had an extensive and pleasant conversation with the driver, in which he was impressed by my Spanish and I in turn understood about half of what he said, and arrived at the hotel/hostel, which had a weirdly light green theme, and also something about melons. Before getting out of the taxi though, I'm pretty sure my driver managed to overcharge me by leaving me waiting in the car with the meter running as he got into a huge fight with the taxi driver in front of him, who, as far as I could tell, must have been a jerk. On the bright side, I got a little more accustomed to the Barcelonan dialect and picked up a lot of curse words. Yay!

Another weird language thing involving Barcelona:

Our hotel had a pool on the roof!  So we didn't really swim much, but we hung out on the roof a lot because we're cool kids and we wear sunglasses and don't nobody mess with us. At one point there were a lot of other German people on the roof, and then one of them came over to German super hero amigo Phil, and apparently asked him if he had any cigarettes, but it was German so I didn't get a bit of it. Then he turned to me and spoke it at me too. In a fit of panic and wild uncertainty, I apologized in Norwegian for not being able to speak German. He got confused and weirded out and stopped talking to me, so I guess that was successful? Norwegian is probably not the language I should instinctively go to as a panic switch kind of thing.

Barcelona is a subject that to which will be returned in the future, because it is beautiful.

I might probably leave me in Europe for a little bit, and maybe I'll keep up the whole font differentiation thing for a while, and maybe I'll start putting pictures in here again too, but maybe I won't do all of those things.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spy Towers, Rock Monsters, and Ghost Pirates, Oh My. Also Spain.

Things I did in and around Sevilla! In order of appearance in my mind as I try to remember what I did:


On my very first Saturday in Sevilla, the rest of the students in the program and I went to an old roman ruin right outside Sevilla, and its name is Itálica. There was a big coliseum and a ton of old shells of buildings and fancy olden-style old roads and loads of other cool historical mosaics and such. Apparently a lot of the stones had been stolen by the moors at some point to build other stuff, so there was a whole 'nother layer of history going on there too. (like a socio-historical cross-section of petty imperial squabbles through the ages)

So here's some.. um... roman stuff

The stereotypical roman roads were the coolest though; I've never wanted a chariot so bad in my life.

We even saw the rich neighborhood and the remains of the bath house, which I assume is where all the rich Romans would hang out and talk about Zeus when they weren't either riding their chariots or watching people die in the arena. (I know Zeus=Jupiter for the Romans, but Jupiter makes me think planet and Zeus makes me think white-bearded Disney character, so I'm sticking with Zeus. I've already made it clear that I am not particularly enamored with factuality.)

 Speaking of which, here's the amphitheater/coliseum/death-trap/lion-and-gladiator-filled public spectacle.

It was the very beginning of the summer program and I still didn't know the other students or the professors very well, so it felt more than a little ominous when we slowly lined up and marched out into the middle of this menacing monument to mortality and cheap placatory thrills.

Whether or not the teachers had originally been planning a Hunger Games/Battle Royale type situation for their still jet-lagged and culturally misplaced innocently academic victims, fate had pity on us that day and decided to let us live. Maybe the lion smuggler was stuck in traffic; maybe the long-dead ghosts in that sacred arena quietly made their haunting voices known to those who would've done us harm; maybe the wide-eyed innocence of my professor's newborn daughter gave our would-be tormentor new hope for life and a more agreeable disposition towards foreigners, or maybe we were never in any danger at all and I just have a vividly paranoid and wildly unstable imagination; I guess we'll never know.

(Maybe my whimsy is trying to kill me; that doesn't seem especially implausible. [IT DOESN'T??? That's more than a little disconcerting.]) (My whimsy seems to be showing up more and more in my blog these days; WAIT DOES THAT MEAN MY BLOG HAS SOME KIND OF CONSISTENT NARRATIVE THREAD THAT TIES THE POSTS TOGETHER???) (This blog is really just a story about me and my whimsy? All these random life-events and trips to Europe are just side plots and flavor text? At this point I'm pretty sure "relatively implausible" is a totally irrelevant descriptor which is no longer of any use to me.)

(So assuming this blog is at its core a story about me and my whimsy (as my whimsy is necessarily part of me, I feel no compulsion to courteously place it before my own name. ["my whimsy and I/me"] That would be silly and probably indicative of some kind of vaguely dissociative mental dysfunction. Let's assume now that everything else I do is in no way indicative of any sort of thing at all similar to that thing I said either. Assumed? Good.)

So assuming this blog is a story about me and my whimsy, then the most important question now is what kind of story it is. a grand one? one with lots of tense silences followed by cars exploding? a hard-to-read and endlessly-aggravating-to-middle-school-children Homeric epic? a Shakespearean tragedy? a cheesy romantic-comedy vaguely based on a Shakespearean tragedy? A witty but ultimately bland action buddy-comedy which finds an inordinate amount of its humor in race jokes? A ridiculously meta and up-its-own-ass-with-pretentiousness quirky indie movie with a wealth of obscure and inexplicably outdated pop culture references and Nicolas Cage?

 Great question(s). I would stick a random picture of Mr. Cage in right here and let you think about that for a bit, but I'm not very good at Internets and I'd probably end up stealing the picture.

Proceeding with story. For lack of a better word.

So I left the roman ruins, energized and thrilled to encounter life anew, inspired as I was by my completely illusional near-death-or-at-least-impending-mortal-peril experience. (I am no longer sure if 'illusional' is indeed a word or if it means at all what I think it does, but I'm going to leave it there and act like I know what I'm talking about.)

Then we went to the beach! The beach and surrounding area were called "Matalascañas," and among other significant features, THERE WAS A HUGE-MONGOUS GREAT BIG ROCK IN WATER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BEACH.

I found it insane. and cool. insanely so.

 Supposedly maybe the rock at some point fell from some kind of tower or wall in place there but that doesn't make sense because it's smack dab in the middle of a beach and there's water there and it's a real big rock.

It's obviously a man-made real big huge-mongous rock though, so there should theoretically be a true and well-recorded origin story somewhere, but I haven't been motivated to really search for one and I've stubbornly refused to believe any of the one I've read already, so we're just going to assume that it's been there forever and that all we have in this day and age are fairy tales and fables postulating fanciful ways that A) a thunder god may have marked this beach thousands of years ago with a mighty tower to exemplify his resolve against the evil water deities, only to slowly see his tower worn down by the water gods and their obnoxious powers of erosion, B)  a giant falcon may have ripped the royal tower from the top of the brightest castle of men and dropped it on the frightful forces of the sea as they slimily slid-marched to battle, not-so-subtly demonstrating his avian superiority over all other peoples and elements of the Earth, or C) a rabid rock monster may have slipped on a beached seal, died, and decomposed into a more manageable shape.

But my point is that the rock is huge and random and pretty cool and in the middle of the beach.

orwellian spy turret. now you know what they look like.
 Here is also a conspicuous tower which was clearly visible from where we sat on the beach. Spooky. "Orwellian Spy Turret" sounds like an appropriate title.

 And now let's cover some of the other cool things in Sevilla! (disclaimer: the beach was not in Sevilla. I'm a dirty liar.)

This is me being musical in the park of Maria Luisa, which is a huge and beautiful park next to la plaza de España, which is a thing of which we will talk in a moment. Picnicking is something we did a lot of while in Spain, and the parque de Maria Luisa was one heckuva place to picnick. Well, besides the blistering heat, numerous sprinklers which kept us on edge the entire time and limited the picnickable lawn area, and the wide array of partially clothed couples scattered around our picnic like animatronic and vaguely erotic greek statues.

 (Please assume that all typos are intentional.)

Relevant side note: In Spain, houses are for families. If you're going to hang out with a friend, you go wander around in the street or go to a bar with him. You don't bring them back to your house all willy-nilly at random just to *hang out* or *play a few games of smash brudders on the wii*, because HOUSES ARE FOR FAMILIES. Of course I'm exaggerating and generalizing, but it is a prevalent trend/custom, and it is not to be reckoned with.

What makes thatthis side note relevant: this rule affects not only friends, but special friends. So if you want to spend time with your special friend, you just go hang out in the park and make-believe you're alone. (It helps maintain the illusion if you close your eyes and make enough noise to drown out other people's conversations)The fact that the majority of Spaniards under 25 years old consistently live with their parents only serves to exacerbate this common conundrum.

That all probably seems really weird and grossly public to you, but keep in mind that modesty works different in Europe. (In that it doesn't.) You know what they say about Americans in European Saunas: Spotting one is as simple as finding the fidgeting, awkward one who's still wearing their towel, seated among a veritable forest of stark naked men women and children

(I'm not sure if they actually say that but I'm fairly sure I've said it at least once)
(Punctuation is for wimps. Boring ones.) 

 Here's a slightly skewed and misleading view of La Plaza de España! Right next to el parque de Maria Luisa, it's basically a semi-circle of big government buildings with a cool fountain and plaza in the middle and a little canal thing all around the plaza. People had little boats in it too--almost like it was the cheap kiddie version of Venice. (but with infinitely less dead mobsters and drowning indebted gamblers)

lol carriages. At least in big places like this they were usually better about picking up the horse poop.
 If any of this looks familiar, it's because it's Naboo from Star Wars Episode I, which is AWESOME. (Objectively I know Episode I is probably the worst Star Wars movie and just generally a bad movie on the whole, but it was the first one I saw and I loved it and I haven't seen the whole thing since and thus it's my favorite. I can't help myself. It's like it's my childhood lover who got away and now I unfairly compare every woman I meet to this misremembered childhood fantasy, making them pale in comparison to the tedious, overacted, unnecessarily confusing girl with the bad Jamaican accent and big ears that I remember from the elementary school playground.)

Actually wait maybe this was only Naboo in Episode 2. I have no idea but I don't care; this was Naboo and Naboo makes me think about Episode 1. My hopes and dreams all died with Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul, my favorite characters ever, and thus I have no reason to care about any movie after Episode 1. As I've said before, I know that is irrational and wrong, but I can't help it. Please forgive my childish whimsy, for it know not what it do.

Here's paddle boats on the beautiful river of Sevilla: Guadalquivir. It was named thusly by the Moors when they ruled Southern Spain from their royal seat in Sevilla. Guadalquivir means "big river" in Arabic, and they named it so because, well.. uh, it's big I guess.

 And this final picture is of me and my shoe relaxing on the river Guadalquivir in a paddle boat. (I was being lazy at the time.)  The river cuts right through some of the most important-interesting regions of Sevilla and it's cool.

Also that shore right there looks cool. Like the everglades or something.

Notice the big tower in the first picture? That's the Torre de Oro, (tower of gold!) which used to be a really big deal before Sevilla got very big (now it just houses an incredibly eclectic "naval history" museum. It's got model ships and paintings of random kings, so it's pretty much indistinguishable on the inside from any other tower or castle or aristocratic mansion or spooky forest lodge inhabited by ghost pirates ever. If you look closely at the second picture you'll notice the tower still in the background. Yay!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sevilla! More Rambling About Dogs, Cars, Political Unrest, and Toilet Design As I Slowly Work My Way Towards Something Vaguely Resembling A Point

Europe has all of the cutest dogs; literally all of them. You might think your American dogs are cute and wonderful and you might be right, but they are all inferior to the cuteness of the European puppy populace. The only reason your mutt looks like the cutest dog in the world to you is that you haven't been adequately exposed to the marvels of perfection that parade around and poop in European cities nonchalantly, like they're *not* divinely infused vessels of transcendental godly beauty. The canine cuteness caliber baseline in America is just lower; try not to get angry about it. (This might be the most incendiary thing I've said in my blog thus far. I can't wait for my first hate mail!)

In Sevilla, however, they've managed to dull the effect of the dreadfully debilitating dog adorability by inundating the streets with doodoo. I don't know if it's that the dogs feel entitled to poop wherever they want, or more that the dog-owners themselves don't feel remotely responsible for the defecated doggy detritus being deposited all over the walkways. (I'm going to attempt to stop putting so much work into my alliterations.) So I'm exaggerating a little bit, but nonetheless there is poop in Sevilla. I'm going to let that statement stand on it's own because it feels like it deserves it.

Not only is there dog poop on the street at times, but horses as well. You can always tell you're getting into the tourist area because there's a little ridge of horse poop forming a backwards ditch (so a hill?) in the middle of the street. (It fits into the normal cobblestone pattern in oddly pleasing ways.) I think there's more dog poop in the tourist areas too, interestingly enough. (Passive-aggressive tourist-hating dog-owners? hyphen-hyphen!!?)

My time in Spain has also improved my ability to sleep through lots of noise. I don't know if it's being environmentally conscious or just the result of incredibly high energy prices (essentially the same difference. In that there is not one. [When I take idioms and cliches out of their normal context I feel like I have to explain them more.]) (It's interesting to see how far you have to take one of those out of context before they no longer sound like they make sense. For some you have to go really far, but for some it's as simple as extracting the aquatic animal from its marine environment or getting a box of Sweet-tarts from your snarky whiny annoying grabby 10-month-old nephew.) (I don't think that's what I meant to do with those but maybe it worked? Neither of those sound especially easy.)

  (I promise there's a relevant point hidden somewhere in this tangent.)

(reset) I don't know if it's because Spaniards/Europeans are more environmentally conscious or if it's just because energy prices are incredibly high, but they tend to put a lot more effort into conserving heat and electricity. Also they're not obsessed with temperature controlling the living bejeezus out of any and every walled structure, unlike America, so temperatures inside buildings and cars tend to be a lot closer to the outside temperatures. Most light switches outside of bedrooms have timers on them, and every toilet has multiple buttons on it. (EVEN POOPING IS MORE COMPLICATED IN EUROPE. I'd like to apologize profusely for the frequency with which fecal matter has become a subject of discussion in this particular blog post.)

My tentative point in all of that iswas that they use windows extensively for light and heat/wind--much more than Americans use them. My point in all of that iswas that the windows are always open at night (because otherwise people would have to sleep in an infernal heat rivaling that of the greatest furnaces of the popular Christian conception of the underworld.) (Connecting my tangents back to my original thoughts is exhausting; I should stop trying to have some kind of logical narrative thread.) (Usually I'd follow a comment like that with a radical descent into disorganized mildly entertaining textual chaos and use it as an excuse to cover a lot of abstractly informative proverbial ground quickly, but at this point I really want to finish making the point that I was working on a paragraph and a parenthetical aside and another paragraph ago.)

The windows are always open and Spaniards are always driving so while you lie in bed every night you're gently lulled to sleep by roaring engines and loud, dissonant, frequent honking. (I believe we've already discussed these car horn characteristics.) It was surprisingly easy to get used to actually, and now I fall asleep in cars TWICE as fast. (Which makes it quite fast. I'm pretty sure I'm the world record-holder, but it's not official yet because the people from Guinness won't get into cars with me.) Also it makes me dream about Spain so that's nifty.

But in spite of  all the feces, car horns, and heat waves, Sevilla is a fascinating city filled with a quivering and pulsating native culture (whoops; by that I mean a vibrant native culture. vibrant. That came out a little weird the other way.) Sevilla is a big university city and an enormously touristic city. (It should be noted that in Europe, "university city" roughly translates as "city.") So there's lots of foreigners (non-Spainers) wandering through the city center (because Sevilla is beautiful and cultural, which I'll get into in a little bit) and a lot of young adults attending the university there, which also means that there's an enormous amount of unemployed young adults there, because, student or not, young people don't have jobs in Spain. (Unfortunate fact; luckily fútbol has recently given unemployed Spaniards a reason to *joyously* fill the streets with shouting, rather than with any of the more *aggressive* adverbs. [such as: 'angrily,' 'furiously' and 'justifiably pissededly at the governmentedly and big businessedly'])

(I hope that was intelligible.)  I did see a lot of protests while I was in Sevilla, and at one point the entire main street of the city was filled with marching angry Spaniards, in what basically amounted to a noisy, opinionated parade--so mad that it totally forgot to bring floats. (Or were they mad because they forgot to bring floats...)

tense. a storm gathering in the distance.


"Our future. Don't sell it; defend it!"

"Education is like the light of the sun; it can and must reach everyone."

something about bankers going to hell?

Some of these aren't even students or young people or informed at all most likely. "Huh? Marching? All right, I'm in."

near the end of the disappointingly non-paradish parade.

Getting to the real touristicy stuff... Slowly...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spanish Food: All the delicious things that can be considered at least vaguely local

Of course the food differs widely in every region of Spain, every city, every neighborhood, and every household, but that isn’t going to stop me from evaluating and describing Spanish cuisine as a whole. So let’s begin with evaluation.

Evaluation: it was great and fantastic and delightful, and I assume that it continues to be so.

Description: (To be honest I prefer description over evaluation—it’s more intellectually [insert adjective form of integrity here:] integrific.(integrous? Integrital?) Plus it provides more opportunities for rambling, gratuitous amounts of adjectives, and unsettling metaphors that don’t necessarily imply anything about the quality of the object receiving the aforementioned description.

Summation: The Spanish diet is not spicy in the least and I saw no tacos. (In fact, some Spaniards see spicy food as a senseless waste of taste buds) (For this example, *one* Spaniard is going to be defined as *some*.) (haHAhaha. Senseless. I get it. Good one Michael.)

It’s a lot like the rest of the western Mediterranean in that they like baguettes, they pour olive oil on everything, and they have a lot of Italian restaurants. (Italy might be economically weak and thoroughly corrupt, but in terms of food popularity and culinary influence, it’s the nearly undisputed king/doge/pope/fascist dictator of the global community. [whatever you feel like labeling the culturally imperial ruler of all pizzas; potato potahmussolinito])

The cornerstones of the Spanish food economy, however, are none other than ham and mayonnaise. Nearly every dish contains at least one of these two as a fundamental building block somewhere near the center of their chemical structure.

You know what mayonnaise looks like, but do you know what ham looks like? Here’s some ham.

Photo credit goes to my dear friend Paige and this poor lady who was visually accosted by tourists. (It was horrible; they took random pictures of her, treating her like nothing more than a piece of meat hooked up on the wall.)

Every Spanish storefront MUST hang ham up, whether it be from the ceiling, the mantel, or a tie rack. This goes for tapa bars, supermarkets, candy shops, hotels and shoe stores. No one is free from this requirement. I believe this picture was taken at a pharmacy; I was looking for vitamins.

It’s unclear whether or not every store is also required to SELL ham, but that’s because I couldn’t find a menu at that H&M and I never felt adventurous enough to try to order without one. (“Do you have these shorts in a less intimidating green? I want something a little violently envious but this is downright sickly. And by the way I’ll have the jamon ibérico with a tinto de verano, and my friend would like an agua; do we wait to be seated or just find a seat? Because we´ve sort of got a good spot in the accessories section we´d like to hold onto--yep, right next to the vintage suspenders and cufflinks.”)

Of course there’s even more outside of ham and mayonnaise, and even the cuisine based solely on ham and mayonnaise can be varied and interesting. I’ll start with the traditionalish dishes and move to less well known ones.

Gazpacho: definitely one of the more unusual ones.  Gazpacho is kind of like a cold vegetable soup, and salmorejo, an Andalusian variant, is kind of a thicker, breadier version of the same thing, usually served with ham and eggs. (By that I mean there are bits of ham and eggs mixed in with the salmorejo, not that salmorejo is just a balanced part of this complete breakfast.)

 My personal opinion concerning these interestingly soupy dishes is that they're great! I just wish they weren't served cold, which is a problem because if they were hot they would suddenly just be soup instead of gazpacho or salmorejo (and a really weird soup at that). The key point is that gazpacho is NOT soup, because it's gazpacho, but I kind of wish it was.    soup.

I can make myself enjoy gazpacho but if I get a moment of free will then I will always make the choice to microwave it, even though that whole hot soup paradox means I'm no longer eating gazpacho. So I'm a culturally ignorant tomato soup junkie with an American culinary bias, what of it?

(The Hot Soup Paradox: a thrilling film adventure about a Castillian gourmet chef and an Austrian astrophysicist, racing against time and the Sicilian mafia as they decode an ancient message from the past and battle the laws of science themselves in order to procure a bowl of room temperature soup. In the midst of the suspenseful and artfully framed chaos, Pablo and Amadeus settle their differences, find love, and develop a profound appreciation for gazpacho coupled with ham.)

Paella is basically a rice dish that is usually served in large quantities in a huge pan with assorted meats and seafoods, but this is a fun-sized paella with chicken in a tiny little snack bowl because that's the photo I have access to.

You basically pile a ton of rice in a huge black pan and cover it with spices and mussels and shrimp and entire lobsters. The best paella is when it's homemade, (in huge quantities like I'm describing now) but it's widely available in much more inferior forms. (And I'm not even talking about the snack-size chicken paella--that wasn't all that bad.) Just like chili and orange push-ups in the United States, (ominous beginning to a sentence) frozen and mass-produced versions of paella are widely available in Spain. In fact there's even a standard mass-produced billboard, featured outside nearly every single mediocre cafe, tourist restaurant, supermarket, and fruit vendor, which essentially tells people that "8 varieties of crappy pre-packaged paella can be purchased for eye-gougingly extreme prices inside"

("eye-gougingly" is an adverb that I plan to start using much more often.)

Now, feast your eyes upon the infamous Spanish Tortilla....

If I were to anglicize it (*scoff*) or try to simplify it for your more inexperienced culinary sensibilities, I would just say that the Spanish Tortilla is literally just an omelet that you sometimes put potatoes or ham or chorizo sausage into--BUT IT'S MORE THAN THAT.

I would say here that la tortilla española is more than just an omelet--it´s a way of life, and although that wouldn´t be far from the truth, it would be dreadfully trite and fearfully cliche, and thus I am not going to say it. But I did.

You'll notice that the bottom picture of the tortilla is enormous; that's basically an entire meal for about three people; not only that but a delicious meal consisting almost entirely of eggs, potatoes, and salt. (and probably olive oil, but that goes without saying)

The top left picture is a beautiful picture of two perfectly created artisan tortillas. (lolartisan) On the right is a picture of tortilla sandwiches and a bowl of random veggies and beans which has been titled "a chickpea salad." Yes, tortilla sandwiches is a thing. And yes, it's just pieces of tortilla on pieces of bread. And yes it gets pretty thick; it's sometimes easier to just eat the tortilla and the bread separately. Yes I know that's nonsensical and pointless.

Also yes, you can label any pile of random food a salad if you just pick one of the ingredients to be the essential "title ingredient." (and THAT'S how oatmeal, with the strategic placement of a few scraps of dried fruit, suddenly becomes "cranberry salad." All pasta dishes ever can just be "grain" or "tomato" salad, but it'd be even funnier to name it after the specific species of noodle, like "linguini salad" or "salad of vermicelli" [inverting it into a more foreign language adjective style makes it even more classy.])

Those are the main three really uniqueish traditionalish Spanish things that I encountered, so here's a list/photoessay/rant about other stuff I ate!

SEAFOOD. There was lots of seafood. This is fried calamari, and it was everywhere.

Does calamari mean anything specific besides "cooked squid"?  It seems like it's a word like ham: a word that  was invented solely to separate the food in our minds from the little cute pig or adorable baby squid in our imagination.

One of my favorite dishes Marisol served us was a pretty simple one that was just pasta, olive oil, condensed milk, and a light sprinkling of bacon. Crazy delicious. (I'm pretty sure you could put olive oil, condensed milk, and "a light sprinkling of bacon" on anything and make it crazy delicious. It's like she broke the idea of food down to its core constituents and isolated the "crazy delicious" factor. Although let's be real, all you *really* need is the light sprinkling of bacon. At that point the condensed milk and olive oil are just garnish.)

 (A Light Sprinkling of Bacon: I'll spare you the whole exposition, but it's basically Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs but with lighter, more appetizing precipitation. Not to mention everyone's Italian. Also it ends with a big dramatic face-off between the Sicilian mafia and the FBI which erupts in the middle of a hugely fancy tense banquet where the two sides manage to stay civil until an FBI agent drops some bacon.)

These appear to be little bagels with some kind of ham, which were probably amazing. I've already mentioned that ham and mayonnaise are as ubiquitous and peanut butter and jelly over there (which, I've learned, is a weird and incredibly foreign combination to them, especially because peanut butter in general is weird and foreign to Europeans. So in reality peanut butter and jelly counts as "American cuisine," and thus it is just as legitimate and fancy as hamburgers and biscuits have the potential to be (by virtue of actually being "cuisine"))

But my point here is that there are tons of different types of ham.  Lacón is some kind of dried ham, there appear to be a number of different adjectives you can add onto bacon in Spanish to make it mean completely different kinds of cooked pig, and Iberian and Serrano ham are both very common. (That sentence was literally "a series of hams," which is an entertaining concept.) All different kinds of cured or dried ham usually; some are incredibly chewy and not of a color of pig meat that is usually eaten in an American diet, and some just look like ham or prosciutto or something. 

(A Series of Hams: Scottish banker and part-time chef Brett McDowell moved to continental Europe looking for a better of life, but all he found was trouble. Trouble, and more ways of serving ham than you can shake a stick of Turkish kebab at. (By far the grossest way of serving ham) To save his wife from the Sicilian mafia, Brett must follow a series of clues across the continent, interrogating a series of exceedingly dramatic and sickeningly cheesy ex-con turned stage actors with a series of leading questions as to his wife's whereabouts, before he finally discovers that all the while he has been working as the private chef for the Sicilian kingpin himself. Fortunately, the kingpin has quite the taste for ham, and Brett's going to serve him a series of ham-based courses that he's never going to forget.)

 This is some kind of delicious seafood salad, in all likelihood being served at a tapa bar.  One big wonderful bowl of crab, corn, and mayonnaise.
 These are patatas bravas, which means strong or brave potatoes. And while they may in fact be courageous tubers, it feels to me as if describing the virtues of your food before you eat them is counter-intuitive and a bit of a depressing turn-off. "Mr. Piggy was determinedly independent, and always a strong proponent of better living conditions on the farm--for all animals. He was a noble pig, and he constantly served as an inspiration and a reminder to others that they too can do better with the lot they're given. May we all fully enjoy his hamhock; it looks pretty greasy."
Beaaaaaans! and potatoes.

A mildly different kind of beans, potentially with some beef and/or potatoes.

 And now an intense chicken sandwich with an entire huge green chili pepper thing. (There was this whole unique tactic for removing the stemmish thing of the pepper before eating it)

 They have pre-packaged chocolate-covered WAFFLES with pictures of SCOOBY-DOO on them in the supermarket. Frankly, I don't know how this country could get any more perfect.
 Ruffles: ham flavor.  Never mind, it just did.
 If you thought I was a coffee-snob BEFORE I went to Europe.....
 pollo a la almendra: almond chicken. Of course it's covered with potatoes too, which is just something chefs tend to do in Spain when a plate doesn't look *complete* enough.
 Solomillo con Whisky!  Which is pork tenderloin... in some kind of whisky sauce I suppose?  And naturally, drenched in potatoes and entire cloves of garlic.
 Forget fire, I'm pretty sure goat cheese and jelly are what Prometheus stole from the Gods; I don't think there's any other explanation for how this became a thing.
 Doritos and canned guacamole. Yay Spain?
 This is me being a bullfighter, dancing for the crowd before I daringly stab the weak and tortured bull (nuggets.)  Bull nuggets. Bull tail nuggets.
 Some kind of italian-ish cake!
 Churros and chocolate...
 This is what you get when you order a hot dog? If this was a Picasso painting it would be a picture of a murder scene.
 I'm also a bit of a hummus snob, so you'll have to forgive me for that too.
 One of these is gross and nasty and deathly and filled with a liquid so pungent and terrible that gods themselves shrink back and cast it to the ground.  The other is a recently living animal off of which you have to tear its skin and head and eyes and intestines before you can eat it, BUT IT TASTES SO GOOD.

Fried food!  empanadas with tuna and some foreign red sauce, some kind of fakish tasty pork nuggets, and croquetas (croquettes?) which are sort of fried ham and cheese mush nuggets. All wonderful, except I have a very limited daily allowance of tuna before my stomach starts to reject everything I put into it and my body starts to retaliatorily throw itself at large but generally cushion-y objects. .

Huzzah for food!  I feel like I've used a gratuitous amount of exclamation points in this post and I apologize for that.  Next time I'll actually honestly really I promise start to talk about actual things in Spain I saw (that I didn't eat.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sevilla and the Spanish Language: My Introduction to the Phenomenon known as España(eth-PAHN-yah). And yes I´m being mildly patronizing.

So I spent more or less 6 weeks of this summer in Sevilla, a bakingly beautiful city in southern Spain and the capital of Andalusia. I took a few classes at a sort of technical college/satellite university thing associated with the University of Sevilla, visited and explored the many historic buildings and castles, (these will be mentioned in further detail when my narrative thread collapses later into just pictures and captions.) and lived with a Sevillan woman named Marisol and two student roommates from UNC: Aaron and Andrew. Exposition: over; spastic visually-driven elaborative explication: beginning launch sequence.

This iswas Aaron and my's room. (Aaron and I's room? Aaron and me's room?  Aaron and mine's room? But if you took out the other subject "Aaron" it'd make sense to be "my room right"? You'd think that by the third year of college I would stop running into grammar problems that I don't understand.) (I have come to the conclusion that all of those options are stupid and that grammar is bad. "This is the room that doesdid belong to Aaron and me.")
 We lived in northern Sevilla, in and among the ordinary people who call the city their home, doing our best to fit in and live like one of them, and throwing ourselves into the culture so as not to stick out like a Tourette's patient at a silent auction (like an Arab-American on day-time television; like a rabid badger in a butterfly house; like a pyrophobic vegetarian Polish immigrant with an umbrella on the 4th of July. Pick your favorite.)

Of course that was doomed for failure from the beginning and despite our best efforts we inevitably stuck out like the guy at Golden Corral who neglects to get a clean plate when he goes to the buffet for seconds.

("Forget water conservation or dish use efficiency, I ain't catchin' no e.coli. or none of that Tourette's neither.")

("You're disgusting; I don't care if you "Forgot to snag some butter for your muffin the first time." Honestly I don't know why you think filthy euphemisms excuse you from any responsibility for bringing these toxic germs and bacterial poisons into vaguely close proximity with our fresh unsoiled buffet butter.)

At this point I should probably explain why that picture looks a little funny and why the snail picture from the other day was so blurry too; I have a camera with me that I've been taking excellent care of, but due to some unexpected and inexplicable structural damage that must have arisen from some internal pre-existing mechanical condition, the display is now broken. The viewfinder is blank. The independent and automatic photo-capturing mechanism has been crippled. My camera is essentially a vegetable.

 (One that is somehow magically capable of taking pictures. Like an eggplant with a cameraphone. Or a cyborg carrot with photographic memory. Or Terri Schiavo stuffed in a pumpkin with one of those picture-drawing inside-camera-dwelling birds from the Flintstones.)

(That was insensitive. I think I'm unconsciously trying to shake myself out of the thus far semi-apathetic style with which I've written this blog by being tentatively offensive and occasionally vaguely political. I use the word vaguely a lot.)

(I wonder if I made that joke too exclusive by mentioning Terri Schiavo AND The Flintstones...)

But the point is that my camera is deaf blind and dumb. I can no longer see what I'm taking a picture of, but neither can it. Being a vegetable, the camera can only be pointed at things and made to carry out its sole surviving operation, capturing an image. (Which is basically the camera vegetable's equivalent of breaking down food for nutrition. or pooping.) The camera no longer knows what the term "white balance" means, and, like a vegetable or misbehaving small child, can only focus on that which is immediately in front of its face. Anything that is not exactly 3-5 inches in front of the camera lens is already out of the camera's focus area and thus not deserving of too many pixels. This is cool for a little while because I don't know what my pictures are going to be like until I load them up, and the contrast of up close and focused with the blurry artsy background can be pretty cool, but eventually that gets old and I want to be able to have nice pictures of things, and more importantly I've discovered that I'm really bad at pointing a camera at things well unless I have a viewfinder that tells me exactly what I'm including in a shot.

(I have bad aim? who knew!? (I'm discovering that phrases like this do not translate very well to the written word. There doesn't seem to be a right way to write them down so that they actually sound/look like they should sound. look. They don't look right. It doesn't look right.) I would do something with the bad aim question but everything I'm coming up with involves Dick Cheney, sexual innuendo, and/or my inability to throw a Frisbee correctly. I feel like all that's been done to death so I'm just going to leave it alone and spare you the shame and resentment. (That's what she said.)

 (Oh God.)

So we failed at managing to completely convince people that we were Spaniards, but we still succeeded in pandering and ingratiating ourselves to the Spaniards so that they would accept us as surrogate or honorary members of their society. So yeah, we hung out and spoke Spanish and the natives tolerated us.

Marisol helped here too; she wasn't afraid to tell us when we were being silly and/or terribly uninformed about Spanish culture. (She also helped with the involving us thing by speaking nonstop Spanish to/at us until we managed to muster up the confidence and vocabulary to begin holding up our end of the conversation.Yay for immersion!)

It went pretty well with people outside our homestay too, except for the occasional ridiculous accent or people who insisted on speaking English to us. Usually I tried to look vaguely Germanic (because I was forced to accept early on that Mediterranean was not a look I could achieve. It was a dark day. And I still don't think the intervention was necessary; they handled my hopes and dreams like Dick Cheney handles his hunting buddies: act like everything's normal, then yell something about a bird and blindside them with a shotgun to the face.)

(I've gotten to the point that I usually no longer even acknowledge my mid-sentence tangents. My whimsy just apologizes, sarcastically pretends to curtsy (ass), and backs up while my more focused and driven, business-casual, goal-oriented part of my brain takes over and politely skips a few lines and starts the sentence over.)

Usually I tried to look vaguely Germanic, as opposed to American, but I'd still get addressed with English sometimes.  When this happened I would just ignore it and keep speaking Spanish like the headstrong American I am, (sentence I never thought I would hear or see or say)  but sometimes they'd throw me off with their English. I'd ask for water, they'd ask "you want ice?" in a thoroughly Spanishy accent, and I would spend 3-5 minutes waffling and then asking them to repeat themselves because when I put "lluwan ais" in my mental Spanish dictionary I just get back *does not compute*, or occasionally *syntactical error?* or *I have no clue what that is, just say sí a lot, find a distraction, and get out of there as soon as possible. Maybe throw a Frisbee or something and then use the subsequent ensuing chaos to follow it out the door and down the street. Meet you at the bus stop.*

(My mental Spanish dictionary isn't very helpful. It mostly just whispers curse words in my ear and makes dirty jokes at inopportune times.) (And subtly makes fun of my athletic abilities.)

So yeah, Spanish.

Another thing: the food was crazy amazing delicious and I miss it already and I will be talking about that a lot next time. 

 So I totally meant to include a lot of pictures and talk about cool places in Sevilla and elsewhere in Spain, buttttt that didn't happen, so all you've got is a picture of my Spanish bedroom. It'd be awkward if I removed the bedroom picture now so ummm... yeah. That's cool I guess.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I feel like I'm rapidly becoming more European, but I don't know if this is my body and mind just naturally adapting to the flow of life here, or if it's the result of deliberately manipulative conditioning on the part of my many different hosts and caretakers I've had while visiting here (Are you offering me a pastry? Or a thinly disguised different set of moral values?) ; all I know is that I will need to undergo some sort of intense repatriation detox quarantine upon my return to America.

First of all, I'm starting to enjoy watching soccer, which is a huge warning sign, and I'm pretty sure I felt some kind of vestigial unexplainable national pride whenever I watched Spain play. (Germany as well, to a lesser extent) (Vestigial? Like a tonsil or a useless wing-like appendage? I guess that's what nationalism is in Spain now: an extra mostly useless organ or limb that might give you a bit of a functional advantage in athletics but in general just makes people look at you like an uncouth fascist hunchback mutant. [There's a *little* truth in there but mostly just mixed metaphor.])

Not only did I enjoy watching the "technique" or "skill" or whatever they call that nonsense used in the actual playing, but I felt myself automatically liking and feeling an affinity for the Spanish team. I also discovered that I immediately hated every player from non-German/Spanish teams on a personal level, even before they scored any goals or pretended to get hurt a lot or took their shirts off in the field and let their crazy come out like the arrogant untalented jerks they are.

(By this I mean the Italians. [which beat Germany by being obnoxious.] No one ever scored enough points on Spain for me to really have time to articulate my dislike for them this clearly.)

(This natural dislike of people based entirely on their nationality seems pretty American actually, but the fact that it involves soccer teams is a pretty huge no-no.) (Maybe when the American Repatriation Police interrogate me I'll just call it Football! Is it especially American to deviously overthink things like this? I'm not sure, but I know it's American to stubbornly stick to my guns and refuse to change my terminology just because I know that the other culture will fundamentally misunderstand my nominalization.)

It's kind of like going to England and asking for fries, and when they say, "do you mean crisps?" you just throw your tea into the nearest available sink or body of water and say, "FRIES. I MEANT WHAT I SAID AND I SAID WHAT I MEANT."

(An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent?)

(haHA! Dr. Seuss is American.)

(butttt his family was all German immigrants... Plus Americans tend to avoid poetry unless they're children or Maya Angelou. Thus my internal national/cultural identity is still in question. Crap.)

(Also there are no elephants in North America. But being ignorant of a fact is about the same as that fact not existing, right? AMURICA.)

What makes this scarier is that I went through the entire Fourth of July without shouting "AMERICA," eating processed meat trimmings, OR burning myself with vaguely illegal fireworks. Not even once. (I did manage, however, to be that obnoxious American who doesn't speak the native language and just insists that if he speaks English slowly and clearly enough, everyone will understand. [Even after the German lady behind the counter has already admitted in German that she doesn't speak English]).
Worst of all, I'm pretty sure I actually bought some clothes at H&M at one point. Should I come forward about this in customs on the way back and just apologize? Or should I try to sneak through, (with my H&M clothes in my carry-on, of course, hidden inconspicuously beneath Sperries and sweatpants.) and then try to do my own self-imposed repatriation later on?  That sounds lazy and procrastinatory, so in the spirit of Americanism, I'm gonna go with that one.

A few more things:
  •  I seem to no longer have a problem with wearing dark blue jeans on a 30 degree day. (Er I mean. um... 85 degree day. Conversions are hard to do.) Luckily I still have less than a clue about how much a meter is.
  • I'm developing an affinity for public transportation. When I first arrived it was like "SCREW THIS BUSES ARE CONFUSING, SOMEONE DRIVE ME," but for some reason or another subway maps are starting to make sense to me. Also I just walk everywhere. When I'm carrying my suitcase though, public transportation is still my arch-nemesis, hellbent on humiliating me and bringing me teasingly close to the brink of a breakdown, but somehow knowing exactly when to stop. (At the beginning of my trip, all public transportation was somehow capable of this.) Finding the right train car and carrying my bag (the size of a small couch and twice the weight) through the train without accidentally mauling someone and then somehow getting the bag into a safe spot to store it--(breath)--is literally a nightmare. Literally in that once I'm done with it, I sit down and pretend I'm asleep and convince myself that it is no longer a thing that happened. (Trying to disconnect myself from reality is becoming part of my routine.) (It can be fun once I'm pretending to be asleep to exaggerate the previous nightmare; I start putting famous people and friends in the place of other passengers and I inevitably add a sword-fight on the roof, because no dream train ride is complete without one of those.)
  • I can stand sparkling water now? Also I'm completely accustomed to just eating bread with various toppings for 2 out of the 3 meals in the day half the time. (I'm still not accustomed to *not* having huge cups of coffee though, so I just kind of overdo it on the caffeine, which, in addition to being a general college thing, seems to also be a European thing.)
  • Sometimes I notice the way I speak English changing according to whatever other languages I've been speaking. (THE COMMIES BE CORRUPTIN ME WITH THEIR BROKEN ENGLISH) (For some reason I think America doesn't need any help corrupting my English) Spanish, when directly translated, sounds a lot like really archaic British English, so here's a hypothetical example dialogue of some of my Spanish-influenced English:
    • Someone else: "Hey Michael, by the way,  the clean laundry's already on the bed. You still need to put the sheets back on though; sorry about that."
    • Me: "I see. That appears well to me, do not preoccupy yourself. I had not been given account of that the dirty clothes yet had been collected. What convenience! All of it that I had wanted to wear tomorrow is yet clean!" 
  • Speaking of which, I've grown accustomed to stiff and crusty clothes that have never been in contact with the substance known in America as fabric softener. I'm exaggerating the crustiness, but drying in Europe is done with clotheslines because they're less lazy and a little more environmentally conscious. 
  •  Naked people on beaches and in saunas and at pools and occasionally in parks no longer really faze me. (The list of things people do in parks in Europe would boggle your mind and rattle your senses while leaving your children with lots of inappropriately detailed questions.)
  • I now expect every church I see to be at least a little impressive and medieval looking, and every town should have at least one cathedral. (there's actually a very sophisticated scale for measuring how medieval looking a city or church is; I require a 3.5 for a city and a 6.2 minimum for any church that I'm going to look at for an extended period of time.) It is also a little unorthodox for a town to NOT have *at least* a few huge random stone walls or gates scattered haphazardly in random places around the city, as if the original builders were creating more of a hedge maze than a fortress.
Europe has spoiled protestant churches for me. More on that next time when I actually start discussing specific places I've been.

 Probably the weirdest Europeanization I'm dealing with is the fact that I'm no longer bothered or enraged or even really notice when I hear up to 4 different languages spoken around me at once as I walk down the street, only one of which I really understand. It's when I hear English that I do a double take or get upset or worry that they're talking about me behind my back, which is a weird reaction now that I think about it.

In conclusion: I love America, but I'm not *in love* with it.


Monday, July 2, 2012

In Hopes of Retaining my Ability to Communicate and Express Myself Effectively in Written English: Deez Wacky European "Languages" be All Crowdin' Ma' Normal Syntactical Patterns 'n' Such

"What am I doing in Europe?" is a question you might currently be feeling inspired to ask, and you would not be without good reason for asking this question, unless you failed to reword it in order to ask me about my activities, rather than interrogating yourself about your own goings-on in Europe. Of course you might have good reason to ask yourself that question as well--I might not be up-to-date on your illicit overseas goings-on, being as I have been in Europe, far away from where you might be squandering your life away in a Portuguese back-alley opium den. I have to ask you, however, to please do all your self-confrontation and careful existential reflection on your self-destructive Indo-European habits outside of this blog and the time-slot that you have awarded to it in your ever-ticking forward-moving countdown calendar that is the rest of your life. Thank you; Please don't make me ask again.

(Is "goings-on" a real term that real people use? Or is it just another word I've learned in a dream? [like mumphin. and turble.] [also I'm pretty sure kaleidoscope didn't become a word until after I dreamed it.] [given, my definition was a *teeeny* bit different])
(Does Portugal have opium dens?)
(Isn't Portugal in Europe?)

Incidentally, I have discovered why English is such a difficult nonsensical language that is so challenging for people to learn. (while we delight so much in tormenting them and refusing to listen or understand a word they say until they learn it)

It is not, as is widely believed, that English pronunciation rules are merely piles of half-baked vaguely worded ambiguous *norms* that each apply to only a few of the many possible syllabic combinations in the English language, and still fail to hold true more than 50% of the time. (Although that is accurate.)

What makes English so difficult and frustrating to master is, in fact, the existence of a certain insignificant something that we do in weird ways that barely anyone else does: helping verbs. HELPING VERBS. Don't nobody do them like we do. (except of course for speakers of a few Celtic languages like Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Welsh.) (now you know!)

So what have am I been doing in Europe? We'll I'm was glad you asked!
  •  Going places. Seeing things. Meeting people. Eating food. Walking. Sitting on trains. Taking pictures of random small animals like hedgehogs and snails. Looking at cathedrals. And a basilica. And a weird cathedral/mosque hybrid pitiful yet fearsome man-made mutant beast of a communal gathering place. (more on that later.)  Infinitives.
RELEVANT. Also cool because it looks like the snail is going so fast that the fabric of time and space around it is being bent and twisted and melted. Either that or it's so slow that the snail stays in one spot while centuries of change go on around it. THE SNAIL TRANSCENDS TIME. (is the only possible conclusion. moving on.)

  • Observing cultural things which are different and/or unusual, both on a large and overly generalized scale and on a very specific obnoxiously esoteric and detailed one. One thing you probably didn't know about Europe: There's a lot of tourism! They also speak a lot of different languages! (English is spoken in Europe too, [waaaaatt????] but the only place it's natively spoken is in the United Kingdom and Ireland, which are actually on ISLANDS SEPARATED FROM THE REST OF EUROPE! [weiiiiiiiiird.])
Forreal though, Western Europe is basically one big Disney World/Graceland/Biltmore Estate/Hard Rock Cafe. Tourists EVERYWHERE. It's OBNOXIOUS. (especially to all the *non* tourists like myself, *scoff*) Eastern Europe is like the employees-only buildings in Disney World where all the people in Mickey Mouse and Pluto outfits take off their masks to smoke and curse and complain about children. Also that's where they take the lost children to do whatever disgruntled Disney World employees/Eastern Europeans do with them.

 (I'm pretty sure that was potentially seriously offensive and degrading to a large quantity of people (i.e. Eastern Europe(eans). Disney's hands are tied for reasons I'm not at liberty to discuss.); luckily I (ordinarily) live in AMURICA, where I can say whatever I want about large quantities of people without fear of repercussion. (save for the occasional riot or boycott or bombing))

Another thing: everything is so much more musical over here. Now by that I don't mean that Europe is like Disney World or Glee or High School Musical and that people in lederhosen regularly burst into choreographed and well-rehearsed performances of popular pop songs or campy less popular songs about summertime or bratwurst. (That's only on festival days.) What I mean is that instead of just mindlessly hurling random music all over the place like America, Europe is musical in that it uses musicality. In very (usually) subtle ways.

For example: car horns. In America, every car horn plays a single note, or just a mass of sound. It works; it's obnoxious. In Europe, however, a lot of car horns, completely individually, will play a specific dissonant interval--often the infamous tritone. That means that they play two notes at once, which, instead of merely being obnoxious like the American horns, immediately grabs your attention and usually makes you want to rip your ears off and bathe your head in salt so the pain will drown out the vaguely nails-on-a-chalkboardish wail which is assaulting your senses. Now that is an effective car horn. ("That" is super intense but for some reason "That's" doesn't feel or look very emphatic. Contractions are wimpy? Maybe that's the conclusion to be drawn from this.)

(Real men do not take shortcuts, even linguistic ones.)

It should also be mentioned, however, that Spanish people appear to have negated the helpfully jarring effect of this car horn by HONKING ALL THE FRICKIN' TIME. They honk when someone else is going slow; they honk when someone else is going fast; they honk when someone is in their way; they honk when someone else gets out of their way; they honk when the light is red; they honk when the light is yellow; they sometimes inexplicably honk when the light is green; they honk when their fútbol team wins; they honk when their fútbol team loses; they honk before, during, and after a fútbol game occurs in which they have any sort of remotely vested interest; they honk to say hi to friends; they honk to harass attractive women; they honk to make fun of ridiculously dressed people on the streets; I'm pretty sure a lot of Spaniards just honk because they can--I'm definitely working too hard at trying to come up with rationalizations for them. (They honk just for the heck of it now because just over 35 years ago the ultra-catholic fascist regime being in power meant that honking was forbidden? I SAID STOP IT MICHAEL)

Also instead of making similarly monotone ringtones or using random catchy dancy music clips as ringtones, some phones in Europe also use music to be more effective and efficient with their ringing. When I was visiting my German rock-star friend and his family outside of Dusseldorf, I was convinced that their house was haunted for my entire first day there, partly because of the ghost that kept taking my socks, but mainly because I kept hearing an eerie ringing, like the music that usually precedes a grotesque fanged creature jumping off of a roof into a dark graveyard, interrupting an ordinary funeral or a misguided attempt at black magic by a silly British secret society; it also reminded me of the X-Files.

It took me until half-way through my second day there to realize that the hauntingly simple and tremendously spooky three-note melody that I kept hearing was just their telephone ringing. Then everything suddenly made sense; up until that point I just thought it was witchcraft that made someone leave the room every time I heard the noise.

So hypothetically that spookiness can help people answer the phone well? I'll have to think that one through.

And I haven't even mentioned church bells yet, which in southern Spain are as loud and obnoxious and dissonant and intrusive as possible. (A singular church bell would do just fine on its own--butNOOOOO--we need a symphony of randomly timed random notes to chime and inform the city that another hour has passed or that it's time for mass or whatever.) It's unclear why exactly this is but it's hilarious because that's kind of what the role of the Catholic Church has been reduced to in Spain; an extremely loud and pervasively intrusive in its influence yet almost entirely passive government-supported venture.

  • Was I trying to make a list out of this? That's unclear, but another bullet point seemed necessary.

Another factoid that you should glean from all this is that Europe is large--enormous even. One does not simply "travel across all of Europe by bus or train or car" unless they have a great deal of time and money on their hands.

(I will also accept "Being chased across the globe by international spies/an organized crime syndicate/Slovakian human traffickers that want to take my life/freedom/9-year-old daughter" as a reasonable rationale.)

Spain, for instance, the first country I spent a large amount of time in, is nearly the size of four North Carolinas. Let's get a better idea of what that means. Hypothetically, if you were to drop Spain on the United States so that North Carolina roughly lined up with the southeast region of Spain, all of North Carolina would be crushed by the mass of sweat and Arab palaces that is Andalucía. Madrid, due to the mountainous terrain of Virginia and Central Spain, would probably end up suspended above Richmond or the general area outside of Richmond, so that, not only would the good people of Richmond be able to say that it was raining cats and dogs, they would also be able to say in all good conscience that it was raining the capital city of the Kingdom of Spain. (the precipitation would mostly consist of people, beer, and the occasional art museum or royal palace.)

West Virginia would be mercilessly smashed into the mountains of la Sierra de Guadalupe in western Spain, while Portugal would end up stretched across two-thirds of Ohio and just enough of northern Kentucky to crush Frankfort with its beautiful mountainous beaches. (did anyone else know that Frankfort was the capital of Kentucky? I didn't even know that was a city. Wow.)) Northwestern Spain would cover nearly all of Pennsylvania and still leave a little bit of Galicia hanging over Lake Eerie, while all of Cataluña and Aragon and the Pyrenees in northeastern Spain, a region a little smaller than the state of New York, would be untouched--not that that would help all of Barcelona from falling into the Atlantic Ocean.

You'll notice that I didn't mention Washington, D.C., Maryland or Delaware. This is not because they would somehow remain safe from falling European countries; this is because they would never stand a chance and their effect on Spain would be negligible at best. New Jersey, however, can take solace in the fact that it would be quite efficient at absorbing a large portion of the weight of the Basque Country and its neighbor regions, while the northern-most portion of New Jersey would remain untouched.

 If we extended this hypothetical scenario, of course, then the beaches of Normandy would end up in Maine and all of South America would be ultimately squashed by Africa, but those consequences are unimportant for the purposes of this mental exercise. If we were to delve that deeply into it we would obviously need to inquire as to how the eastern hemisphere somehow managed to flip itself over before being dropped on its western counterpart.