Seville

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So, Seville. It’s such a many-splendored city that my selects folder has 44 photos in it, even though I usually stick to a 15-image limit for any one post.

First of all, it’s a rich and therefore gilded city. Second of all, its aesthetic has been shaped by several very different cultures –  Moorish, Catholic Spanish, and Gothic European. Sometimes all three influences are visible in one structure, to fascinating effect. Third of all, the ornateness and scale of the town’s three or four big eye-poppers is such that they are impossible to do justice to in only a couple of images. But, I scrapped a bunch of photos nevertheless, in order to leave you with what I hope is a nice and concise impression of a very nice and very grandiose city. Continue reading

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My plans, or lack thereof

So… I’m leaving Dakar. Which I know sounds ridiculous coming just days after I posted a love letter to the city. I meant every word of it, and I’m sure I would fall even harder the longer I stayed. But sometimes you can’t be with the one you love. Continue reading

¡progreso en español!

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I left for Mexico City on the last day of my Spanish class, a perfect segue between theoretical practice and putting it all into actual practice. My hope was to get a full immersion experience, use English as seldom as possible, and come back speaking Spanish leaps and bounds beyond where I started.

Problem is, I don’t know that much Spanish to begin with. I’ve learned two forms of the past tense but not the one that seems most important, the simple past. Likewise, I know the easy form of the future tense (ir + infinitive), but not the more sophisticated one. I am clueless when it comes to using verbs with se at the end, because I keep projecting the French rules for reflexive verbs onto them, and they just do not follow those rules. And my vocabulary is severely limited.

It’s not easy to immerse with such a small tool set. So, my level of success was varying. Sometimes, due to accents above all, I could not understand a single word a person was saying, and they could not understand me either. Many times, I thought I was cleverly and rather poetically working my way around the words I didn’t know, when in actuality my creative expression was only further confusing things. Often, I swapped similar-sounding words and wreaked havoc on my intended meaning, as when I told a man that my job was to make girlfriends – novias – instead of the news – noticias. (Akin to when I kept referring to hair – cheveux – as horses – chevaux – in France.)

I had better luck once I accepted the fact that I had to think my words through more carefully before spitting them out, even though I was already talking at a snail’s pace. After a slooooow conversation with two local men towards the end of my trip, one commented to another, “Ella habla muy despacio pero cada palabra es perfecto.” I was thrilled at the backhanded-compliment – despite their obvious belief that I was too slow to understand what they were saying about me.

And eleven days of semi-immersion is all it takes, apparently. By the end of my trip, when I was in a taxi returning to the hotel in Mexico City after my Elsewhere adventure, I became a veritable charlatan. (Not a pretender, as in the English definition, but rather a chatterbox, as in the Spanish. Intriguing, no, that there is an etymological connection between lying and over-talking?) I was making crazy confident conversation. The words were flowing. I understood the cabbie, he understood me. It was like I had hit my Spanish flow.

The same thing happened in France, though on a much higher level. In Mexico, I was ecstatic to find I could form complete sentences with the correct tense and conjugation. In France, I was astounded when I could carry on the same conversations I would have had in English. But in both cases, I kept hitting a wall, hitting a wall, hitting a wall, and then went to bed one night and woke up the next day speaking the language.

In short: immersion makes miracles happen.

[Photo: Wendy]

lo que hice en mis vacaciones de invierno

post_officeConsidering that my command of both French and Spanish is at a grade-school level, it seems appropriate to report on my vacations to French and Spanish-speaking countries with elementary school-style essays. Today I bring you the second installment: DF and Elsewhere edition.

Please note that I did not consult Google Translate or a living, breathing Spanish speaker for this. So what follows is not pretty, but it’s an accurate representation of where I’m at when I have only my brain and Spanish spell-check to rely upon:

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He llegado por la tarde en Cuidad de México (DF) y he ido a mi hotel en el barrio Condesa. La primera noche, he conocido a mi amiga de la universidad que vive ahora en DF. En el restaurante ella me dijo que puedo beber el agua además comer los vegetales frescos, si es un bueno restaurante, porque ellos anudan ‘iodine’ a su agua y limpian todo con este agua. Aunque el más importante reglo que he escuchado para México estaba de no beber el agua, decidí de crear en mi amiga y esperar por lo mejor. O sea que la primera cosa que he comido en México estaba la más prohibida: unos hojas de una verdura con agua no-de-la-botella (no-botellado?). Continue reading

theoretically speaking

through_the_glass.jpgLet’s just say that I went somewhere that I desperately wanted to talk about but didn’t want to call by name. Let’s just say that I did not feel like discussing the reasons for this publicly. Let’s just say that I chose to call that place Elsewhere and asked you to call it that, too. Let’s just say, OK? Okay. Adelante!

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Terry Pratchett edition

Terry_Pratchett_Travel_Quote.jpgI don’t actually need any hump day inspiration considering that I got back from vacation last night and did literally nothing at work today but hang out and hyperventilate/chatter about said vacation while extremely high on espresso and life.

I’ll share photos once I sift through all 1,500+ of them and find the gemmiest of the many, many gems… Because where I went, it was eye orgasms every which way you looked.

Hasta pronto, mis amigos! No puedo esperar para mostrar mis fotos del más magnífico vacaciones en la historia de vacaciones! (I’m still high on that coffee, fourteen hours later.)

adios, amigos!

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It’s 1:57 a.m. and I have to leave for the airport at 5:05. Part of the reason I’m still awake is that tomorrow today is the last day of my Spanish class, during which there will be a final exam. Because I won’t be there, my teacher provided me with instructions for taking the exam online on some special site. So in addition to my usual last-minute million things to do, tonight before packing I took a 1 1/2 hour Spanish test.

Which I failed miserably. Not because I did badly per se, but because something went horribly wrong when the timer ran out on Part One while I was still typing, which somehow triggered the entire exam to submit itself without giving me a chance to move on to the more heavily weighted second essay. And apparently once the exam is submitted, there’s no way to reverse course and continue working on it.

The submission confirmation page showed me what the second essay question was,  so I typed something up in Word and emailed it to my teacher, along with a little note beseeching her to show me mercy.* Since I’ll barely have Internet access during my trip, I won’t actually know whether she did or not til I return from what will be the true test of my Spanish skills.

…In approximately twelve hours I’ll be in Mexico City, trying desperately to be understood. And wishing desperately for a nap.

Back in a couple of weeks. Hasta luego!

[Photo: Eneas De Troya]

*I care about my grade not because of pride or perfectionism but because if I don’t pass the test, I don’t pass Level 3 Spanish, and I can’t move on to Level 4 if I ever come back to work here after my current contract ends.

what not to do when planning an international trip

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1. Buy your airline ticket.
2. Vaguely look into visas and decide you don’t need any for the countries you’re visiting.
3. Wait a month.
4. Two days before your trip, think to yourself, did I adequately check whether I need a visa for that one country?
5. Do a quick Google search.
6. Convince yourself a visa may be necessary even though the vast majority of the information online claims that you can get it in the airport… But there are those one or two sites that differ.
7. Panic.
8. Call the airline and attempt to ask in Spanish (yes, it had to be in Spanish) whether it is in fact possible to get the visa in the airport.
9. Further panic when the customer service guy wants to look up your ticket first, but can’t find it. (Yes, panic, even though when you click on a link in your ticket confirmation email, it takes you to a second confirmation page directly on the airline’s site. And even though the reasonable explanation for the confusion is that you can neither correctly spell your name in Spanish letters nor intelligibly articulate dates or times in Spanish numbers.)
10. Miraculously understand when the guy tells you he’s going to attempt to find someone who speaks English because the conversation will be too complicated otherwise.
11. Wait on hold for fifteen minutes, worried.
12. Call back when phone gets disconnected. Wait on hold another twenty five minutes.
13. Finally get on the line with someone who speaks English, and within the space of two minutes, confirm that your ticket is just fine and that you can get the visa in the airport before your flight, no problem.
14. Hang up the phone, and close ten Chrome tabs on which the same information was written, but which you chose to ignore because you court anxiety like it’s Vitamin C and you’ve got scurvy.

[Photo: JD Hancock]

I’m just loco like that

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The chapter we’re studying in my Spanish textbook is called “Ida y Vuelta,” and it’s travel-themed. Yesterday, we split into two groups for an in-class activity in which each group had to come up with a travel adventure plan to present to the other group. Details were to include where we’d go, what we’d do, how long we’d prepare for the trip, and how we’d finance it.

I sheepishly reported to my group that I have a real-life travel adventure plan I am hoping to put into action soon. When I told them what it was, it sounded so much like fantasy that I started passing it off as such to hide my embarrassment. “Primero, voy a ir al Senegal para practicar mi francés, y luego voy a ir al Argentina para seguir aprendiendo mi español, y voy a ir de un país al otro país por, erm… no sé… viajar alrededor los otros países del mundo, quizas?” Which, if I spoke proper Spanish, would translate to, “First I’m going to go to Senegal to practice my French and then I’m going to go to Argentina to continue learning Spanish, and I’m going to get from one country to the other by traveling around the world, maybe?”

We ended up fusing that plan with everyone else’s much more modest travel fantasies (tomar el sol en Florida, conducir por México, viajar a Praga para ver los museos) and decided we would finance our now wildly-untenable trip by working really hard in a restaurant for two months beforehand and selling our travel photos to National Geographic during our trip – which actually sounds much more plausible than the idea of me circumnavigating Africa in-between language immersion stints.

At one point while trying to explain the plan, my classmate asked the teacher, “Cómo se dice, ‘crazy'”?

I piped right up, “Loco!” Because if you harbor a dream as far-fetched as mine, you’re going to know that word in many languages.

[Photo: Fumigraphik]

setbacks

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Setback one: After spending day after day checking airfare alerts for the best deals (and there were many: $525 to Seoul, $400 to Hong Kong, $330 to Paris, $275 to Martinique), I ended up buying two decidedly non-deal tickets to the two places I wanted to go to most: Mexico City and, erm, somewhere else nearby.

I leave next Thursday. Last Wednesday, I ran too far in my newish running shoes that just don’t fit very well, and I’ve been increasingly hobbled by my big toe since then. While the day after the run it merely ached, today it is so bad that I’m limping around wondering if I might have somehow broken my toe simply by running on it.

I had planned to spend the entirety of my vacation wandering aimlessly around the streets of the cities I’m visiting, as is my wont, but now I’ll be lucky if I can even step into and out of the taxis and buses I will be relying upon to haul me around. Panicked! Calling a doctor tomorrow…

Setback two: It’s time to register for my next semester of Spanish at work. In order to do that, I need to submit an updated letter from HR saying that I’m expected to be contracted through the end of the course. Problem is, in the pursuit of this letter I found out that my contract will almost certainly not be extended past December 31.

I’ve been at this job long enough to know that anything is possible, including that my contract will be miraculously renewed month by month until April 19, at which point I’ll have filled the post for the full year that it is allowed to be held by a temp. Even if that happens though, what’s fairly certain is that I won’t be able to take a free Spanish class next semester.

Nadie va a escribime la carta, y sin lo [la?? ella??], no puedo tomar el clase. I wrote that without the help of Google Translate! This class has taught me so much, it’s the highlight of my Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I’m so, so sad that I won’t be able to continue with it in the new year.