Friday, July 31, 2009

You say billete, I say boleto

I can't explain why, but last night I had this overwhelming urge to look for flights. And I struck gold: a $631 round trip flight to Madrid. I thought about it, especially the part about being told not to book flights until I had my Visa. But then I realized that the likelihood of finding a flight that cheap (again) was very low. I mulled it over and went searching for my credit card. I couldn’t find it. “This is a sign!” I thought. But then I found it and completely based on impulse and good faith, I booked my flight and picked my seats; all window seats.

I was taking a huge risk.

So imagine my surprise when after leafing through my application and documents, the cute soft-spoken guy at the Consulate looked up from behind the glass panel and asked, "Where's your flight information?" My stress levels began to rise to orange-red levels.

I told him that although I booked it the night before, I didn't have anything with me. I showed him the document that clearly stated, in bold, DO NOT BOOK YOUR FLIGHT UNTIL YOU HAVE A VISA. He looked at it, acknowledged it was from Spain, but that didn't matter.

He handed me back my application with some instructions: Make extra copies of this and that and bring back your flight information.

I looked at the long line behind me. "How much time do I have?" I asked.

"You have until 11," he said quietly, stoically.

He must have seen my eyes get all Bambi-like because he then told me that when I got back, I wouldn't have to wait in line again.

The ride down the elevator was a blur and suddenly, I was really breaking in my new boots pounding the pavement. It was 8 a.m. and the two copying places I came across were of course, closed. I finally found a place three blocks down with a computer lounge (YES!) and in less than five minutes, I was out the door and crossing my fingers.

When I walked in, my face was flushed and HOO BOY WAS I SWEATING. The line was even longer and I stood near the window, hoping the guy would make good on his promise. He saw me and half-smiled.

The Consulate occupies a small office on the 8th floor of a building on Wilshire Blvd. I drove past it a million times when I interned at Los Angeles magazine.

Catching my breath and fanning myself with a manila envelope, I began to notice all the things I missed before my Tasmanian Devil exit. The Spanish flag, the chocolate brown leather chairs and the flat screen TV playing the Spanish version of "Good Morning America." Nearby, a portrait of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia hung on a wall.

Finally, it was my turn and after handing over several documents, copies and two pictures of myself, I triumphantly handed him my flight confirmation. I felt like Anne Hathaway's character from "The Devil Wears Prada" when she manages to get the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript. HA! TAKE THAT CUTE SPANISH BOY!

"Este es mi boleto electronico," I explained. "This is my electronic ticket."

"Un que?" he asked, leaning closer. "A what?"

I repeated myself. And that's when he smiled and apologized.

"Disculpa, solo escuche 'boleto,' nosotros lo llamamos 'billete,'" he said. "Pardon, all I heard was 'boleto.' We call it 'billete.'"

I laughed and didn't bother explaining that I speak MEXICAN.

He stamped my application and handed it back to me, with a smirk.

I think I'm starting to see why everyone teases me about returning home married or engaged. Those smirky Spanish boys.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A text message from a few minutes ago

"I'm at work. News?!??"


After months of waiting, Raya finally got the call this morning. She's going to Catalonia.

I couldn't be happier. I foresee many train rides to Barcelona in my near future.

UPDATE: She's been placed in Barcelona! My intuition is uncanny. I just realized that we have opposing soccer teams. REAL MADRID > FC BARCELONA!

There are terrorists in Spain, you know

Before I was placed in Madrid, there was a very good chance I'd be packing my bags for Pais Vasco, or Basque Country. The possibility was an excuse for research. I was happy to hear it was a melting pot of cultures--like LA--and that the food was excellent. Also, the Guggenheim Museum is in Bilbao. Does it look familiar?

But then, I came across another aspect of Basque Country... the ETA, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom). The ETA is a terrorist organization founded in 1959 that is operated by the Spanish and the French. In 2006, they bombed the Barajas Airport.

While their activity has lessened over the years, they're still very much active.

Yesterday's car bomb in Borgas is a reminder of that. So is this morning's explosion in Mallorca.

I'm not too worried. After all, I'll be in Madrid, far from most of the crazy. And if you think about it, there are terrorists everywhere. I could be living down the street from a White Supremacist group for all I know.

But let's not think about that.

(photo via BBC Mundo)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things to Do

I'm running out of time! It also doesn't help when friends and family (with good intentions) keep asking the same question: How's Spain?

I think Spain is doing just fine but *I am* a bit overwhelmed. Just a little.

So I've made a list (can you tell I'm fond of lists?) to keep me away from Xanax:

1. Apply for Visa 07.31.09
2. Book flight 07.30.09
3. Call my tax man
4. Call the bank
5. Cancel my cell phone service
6. Cancel my gym membership
7. Buy a bigger suitcase
8. Find a place to stay/Hostel
9. $$$Save
10. PACK

Ahh, I feel better already.

(photo via Amy Harrity)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Shut up, Stephanie

Moving to Madrid will probably be the most awesome thing to happen to me and yet, I've started to freak out. I'm fine and completely excited one minute, even watching "On The Road Again" and the next, I'm making lists, crunching numbers and contemplating the magnitude of what it means to move to another country.

And that's when I consider calling it off.

But then a voice inside my head says, "YOU'D BE INSANE IF YOU DID, MISSY." Sometimes, this voice has a southern twang to it. Other times, it sounds like Anthony Bourdain, with slightly more colorful language (Yes, there are voices implicated. You should be just as concerned as I am). So I've started reminding myself of all the great things that await in Spain, because there are many.

Here are a few:

1. Siestas. OF COURSE THIS IS AT THE TOP OF THE LIST. It's no secret that I love to sleep. But college (not to mention working two jobs and juggling a few internships in between) turned sleep into a rare luxury. Sometimes, I power napped in my car before class. Sad, isn't it? (I should add here that I graduated with honors, so the eye bags were worth it). But you see, in Spain, everything comes to a screeching halt for nap time. It's kind of a big deal. Businesses close because they WANT you to catch up on your beauty sleep. I don't want to let Spain down, so nap I will!

2. I can has paella?
I'm really curious to try it. All I know is that it's a mixed rice dish that may or may not contain snails. I'll give the snails a try just as long as there aren't any traces of the Devil's food ONIONS.

3. Sangria.
This needs no explanation.

4. Personal growth.
Yeah, I know it sounds very self-helpish, but I need to be more self-reliant and independent. To me this means paying my own rent, catching trains, getting lost, homesickness, buying toothpaste, leaving the nest for one of my own and falling flat on my face. A good kick in the pants, just what every recent college graduate needs. It's all good.

5. Museums.
Spain has quite a few of them, the most famous being The Prado, which has some Velázquezes, Goyas and Bosches. Also, admission is free if you're a student under the age of 25. And not too far from The Prado is the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, which has Picasso's "Guernica." The art history geek in me will be very happy, methinks.

6. New amigos!
When I land in Spain, I won't know a single person there. There will be no past history looming over my head, I won't be so and so's daughter, sister or friend. It will be just me and my suitcases. Nice to meet you too.

7. Barcelona. Besides the beaches, I'm really excited to learn more about Gaudi.

Casa Milà

8. Real Madrid games. Spanish soccer hooligans! Ronaldo! GOAAAAAAAL!

9. Visiting Malaga, where my great-grandfather was born.
I probably have family still living there. But if I sought them out, it would be weird to show up on their doorstep, right? ("HOLA! I COME FROM AMERICA!") I just like the idea of coming full circle somehow.

But what am I looking forward to the most?

10. Parque del Buen Retiro ("The Good Retreat")

If I'm not working, I will surely be found here, taking a nap, reading, kite-flying, people-watching, painting, writing, daydreaming and exploring the less frequented parts of the park.

This will be my happy place.

The Spanish royals used to go to the park for Christmas and Easter during the 16th century. Later, King Philip III decided to build the Royal Gardens there.

And as if the park wasn't beautiful enough, there's also a Crystal Palace.

I half expect to bump into a unicorn.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

La Oreja de Van Gogh

I listened to this album nonstop in 2003, and this song ("Perdoname") was my favorite. La Oreja de Van Gogh just isn't the same without Amaia, even though her replacement looks and sounds just like her.

This one ("Puedes Contar Conmigo") is for Raisa, who designed this blog's lovely masthead. Thanks, Raya!

I wonder what new music I'm going to discover en España.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Everything I know about Madrid I learned from Shakira

I don't think I have the stomach to attend a bullfight. Pobres.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Running with the bulls

I will be moving to Madrid in September to teach English to some niños.

Since I'm still sorting out Visa matters and I don't have much to blog about yet, I thought I'd start with the most exciting thing happening in Spain right now: the running of the bulls during the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona.

It's too bad I won't be there for the next one. Don't worry, I'd just cheer from the sidelines.

(pictures from the LAT)
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