Los Vascos no han visto Pocahontas

There is no grammatical gender in Basque, but they do seperate two categories of nouns, which each have their own cases. Aitor initially explained these two categories as being for ‘people’ and ‘places’ – but obviously that leaves out a lot of nouns. Later, he summarized the difference as being between ‘living beings’ and ‘everything else’, which satisfied us until we came to an exercise involving the word tree. A tree is sort of a place, thought some of the students – you can build a house in a tree, for example. Others of us thought trees might count as living things – they’re organic, after all. Aitor seemed almost puzzled by the question. “Trees aren’t living things!” he said, before realizing the ambiguity of his own definition a second later.

So, trees go in the second category, along with inanimate objects (including places). People and animals are in a seperate category. I scrawled a note on the bottom of my paper, to help me remember – “Los Vascos no han visto Pocahontas” – “The Basques haven’t seen Pocahontas.”


The Most Dangerous Place in Madrid

Vintage magazine covers

Interested in buying a gas mask? How about some vintage postcards or magazine covers? Or maybe just some cute new sweaters and scarves for the winter months? If you’ve come to El Rastro de Madrid, held every Saturday and holiday throughout the year, you’ve come to the right place to buy all of the above, and more.

Are those... gas masks?

Sara and I went in, ‘just to see it’, and emerged a few hours later with about 100 euros worth of purchases – and we were being strict with ourselves! I like to joke with my friends who are headed to the Spanish capital to watch out for El Rastro – the most dangerous place in Madrid!

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 15:26  Leave a Comment  
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Paella Casera


Estela’s Spanish flatmate was cooking Paella with some friends, and was nice enough to invite us (all 7 of us!) over to eat it with them. None of us will ever pass up an opportunity to eat Paella, whether it’s undercooked Paella Gigante at a University Event or the most obvious choice for the Primer Plato on any Menu del Dia, but I was really looking forward to the homemade variety (casera). I’d actually had to cook Paella for my Spanish IV class a few years ago, and it tasted a little bit different than any kind I’ve had since – better, if I may say so myself, but I wondered if I had deviated from tradition.

We made a pretty mean Paella eating team!

This Paella, though, confirmed any doubts I may have had – I had cooked my Paella correctly, and they were both wonderful. While the quicker and easier version from the restaurants and school events is quite tasty itself, it just can’t compare with Paella Casera. The difference is something fundamental – more saffron, fatter rice that has more time to absorb the broth until it swells and swells and is barely rice anymore. I’m dreaming of it now… if only it didn’t take over an hour to cook!

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 22:04  Leave a Comment  
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Boletus Erythropus

My mushroom is the red one on the left.

We went mushroom hunting in Selva de Irati. Somehow I ended up with one of our findings – a red mushroom bigger than my fist. I was equal parts intrigued and cautious, but the guide was confident. Dark brown cap, red pores, and when you cut or bruise it, ‘azulea’ – ‘it turns blue’. He knows this mushroom well and eats it often – I should just fry it up and make an omelette with it. It’ll be good, he promises.

But Ida says she ate a similar mushroom once, in Finland, and threw up all night on a boat in the middle of a lake. But maybe, she suggests, she just didn’t cook it thoroughly enough. Thanks, Ida.

The Mad Chef

I brought the mushroom home and combed Google for a second opinion. Google seemed to think that my mushroom was Boletus Erythropus, which looks somewhat like the Boletus Satanas (Yes, Satan’s Bolete). Erythropus, however, is safe to eat… They think. Apparently it’s important to cook it well, but there’s disagreements as to whether all kinds are safe for everyone, even when cooked. Still, the worst case scenario seemed to be upset stomachs, so, after due consideration, I decided to go for it.

Azuleando - Turning Blue

I washed the mushroom really well, then took a big knife to it and started liberally removing anything I wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to put in my mouth. The entire stem went into the trash can, as did the majority of the cup, since I didn’t think people ate the pores, and other pieces looked a bit dirty. I was left with a few big chunks that looked fit to eat, and I chopped these into tiny pieces that would be easy to cook through. The flesh of the mushroom really did change from white to blue seconds after being touched by my knife. Bizarre.

My mushroom omelette.

I sauteed the mushroom with a lot of very hot oil and a clove of garlic, then threw in an egg to make a sort of American Omelette. The result was quite tasty, even though I ate it slowly, watching out for a stomach-ache. I did get a little one, in fact, but I think I psyched myself into that one. 🙂

The mushroom itself was quite tasty, and there was definitely a little extra something that I wouldn’t have gotten with champignones. I think my Finnish penpal, Liisa, would be proud of how far I’ve come from the days that I was too American to eat anything that didn’t come, plastic wrapped and vacuum-sealed, from the store. It really seems miraculous that I was able to find this mushroom in the forest, pull it out of the earth, take it home, clean off the dirt and the worms, cook it, and eat it – talk about direct from nature!

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 13:53  Leave a Comment  

A Walk in Pamplona

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Saturday was a quiet day here in Pamplona, with all of my friends sick or studying or sleeping off crazy Friday nights. But it was also 19 degrees celsius, and sunny – too nice for me to stay inside! Instead, I grabbed my camera and my old Pamplona map, which I haven’t touched for almost a month. I set off to go a little bit further, look around this corner and that. I found a lot more than I expected to! With the windy old streets here, you might pass by a cute new park a thousand times, just a block away, and never realize it.

I started by walking all the way round Ciutadela, where I discovered a built in Racquetball court! Then I went past the bullring and out past the city walls, walking a short distance along the river Arga, where there were tons of families having picnics and feeding the ducks, and then entering the city on the Puente de la Magdalena and the French Gate, following the Camino de Santiago all the way back to my front door. Looking out over the city from the top of the walls, you realize how big it really is: most of the time we students don’t go any farther than the Casco Viejo, but that really only makes up a small portion of the city’s dimensions.

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 13:27  Leave a Comment  
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Settling Down, Settling In

When I reread my old blog posts, I can see how much I’m really settling in. Fall and winter are bringing their own challenges, but the initial panic is gone. I feel legitimate checking out in the grocery store. I rarely get flustered by a new and creative way they ask me if I want a bag or how I want to pay. Sometimes I have short conversations with the other residents of my building in the elevator or the foyer. I relax.

Today I went to campus an hour early to study for the To Kill a Mockingbird exam with Sofia. She’s Italian, but we always speak Spanish together. The exam was brutal, but I laughed about it with Sofia and Florencia (from Argentina) and Marta (from Pamplona). Sofia and Florencia and I were staying for the exam, so we ate a quick lunch together in the cafe first, speaking mostly Spanish but occasionally switching into English, since we all three spoke it. Switching between English and Spanish is getting easier and easier. Sometimes I forget which one I’ve just spoken. We went in to watch the movie and I had no real problem understanding it, just like I was able to understand X-Men and Fantastic Four and Anna and the King on the bus ride from Alicante. I laughed at Florencia putting her feet up on the desk. Hadn’t we been told a half-a-million times in Kiser and Altadonna’s classes that Hispanics and Latin Americans would kill us for even thinking of doing such a thing?

At the end of the day I put on my coat, swiped out at the door along with a flood of Spanish students, not slowing anything down, not confused, not sticking out in any way. Just moving out with the crowd into the dark night that wasn’t scary or chaotic any more. It didn’t unnerve me to be alone in a strange country, in a strange city. They’re just not that strange any more.

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 12:35  Leave a Comment  

Cumbres Borrascosas

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Our Selva de Irati hike started out with a long walk across some windswept plains. The fog was so thick that we could only make out the bare outlines of things about twenty feet away… any farther, and they disappeared completely. Not the sort of place where you want to get lost!

Usually there was grass and small stones under foot, but once in a while there were patches of heather, just like in Scotland. With so much moisture in the air, soon our clothes and our hair were actually wet, despite the lack of falling rain. We kept walking, our hands pushed deep into our pockets to keep warm, oblivious to time and distance.

I thought again and again of Wuthering Heights, which I’ve just reread for my literature class here. In Spanish, they call it Cumbres Borrascosas. I told our guide what I was thinking, and he just laughed. “See Miranda,” he said, “What places I take you too – the canyons, the Pyrenees, and now to Cumbres Borrascosas itself.”

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 21:52  Leave a Comment  

Selva de Irati

Sunday morning came cold and wet, but I wasn’t about to let such a trivial thing as the weather keep me from another Club de Montaña adventure. This time we were off to La Selva de Irati, Europe’s second most important forest after Germany’s Schwarzwald. The drive there was lovely at first, as we passed charming Basque houses and valleys that reminded me of New England. Then we drove into the mists, and saw nothing but white on all sides…

The bus let us off, and after a long hike through the fog, we entered the forest. Immediately I felt like I was back home in Missouri! Some things were subtly different, but much was the same, and I breathed in the smell of wet leaves and moss with relish. The fall colours came as an exciting novelty to some of the exchange students, but coming from Missouri I found them to be a welcome reminder of home. The time vanished quickly into a blur of yellow and green leaves, interrupted only for a lesson on identifying mushrooms.

This hike wasn’t as exotic as some of the other Club de Montaña activities have been, but in a way it was lovely to be, for a few hours time, back home in an Ozark forest. And I came home with a big fat mushroom!

Winter is Coming

A Spider on my Window

Today the thermometer by the bus station read +1 degree. Celsius, of course, and the thermometer at the gas station was a few degrees warmer, but that’s still pretty chilly. The weather here is generally comparable to Missouri, but what I’m hearing is that it’s a cold October on both sides of the ocean. Someone’s even found a news article predicting Europe’s coldest winter for 1,000 years. Yikes.

But it’s still nice in the afternoons, when the sun is shining. We’ve so far had less rain than I expected, so that’s a blessing too. Really, if the heat in my apartment was a little bit better, I’d be coping fine so far. The heating is central, so the powers that be turn it on or off for the entire building at once. They waited as long as they could to admit that winter was coming, but now I notice that my radiator is warm in the evenings sometimes. An improvement, but I’ll be happier when and if they decide to turn it on in the mornings – it’s hard enough to get out of bed when you don’t have to freeze while putting on your clothes, and lately I’ve been crawling back into bed to warm up after I get them on!

Eroski Curry

One thing I definitely need to get through a winter is a steady supply of curry, so I spent some time coming up with a recipe for an easy one I could make with ingredients from Eroski – Heat up some oil, add some cumin and a chopped onion. Cook for a while until the onion is translucent. Add three cloves garlic, chopped finely. Add a lot of red pepper powder, a lot of curry powder, and a little cinnamon. Add a can of crushed tomato and a single serving of unflavoured yoghurt. Let cook and thicken for a while, add salt and honey to taste, and the juice of one lemon. Serve with any sort of vegetables or meat that you have lying around.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 10:03  Leave a Comment  

The Gombrich

I had my first exam here in Spain. It was for my Visual Culture class, and, as it covers The Story of Art by Gombrich it’s infamously called “El Gombrich” by current and former students. Now, I took an art history course in high school. I read the book in question. But the test swam in front of my eyes and both of the two choices always seemed right. Later, one of the students told me that they were both right, half the time, you had to pick the better one, and sometimes the difference hung on some minor point, some subtle linguistic shading. Lovely. And did I mention that it’s apparently common practice here for all the students to pass around the exams from the previous years? I’m glad they told me about that more than fifteen minutes before the exam’s were passed out…

But none of that really matters in the end. Either I passed, or I didn’t pass. That’s all that matters, because my grades here translate back as pass/fail. I didn’t really think about the possibility of failing anything, not before. I was actually shaking a little bit when I signed into ADI. The scale goes from 1-10, but it’s not exactly like our percentages. 5 or above is a passing grade. 5 or below is a failing grade. Either I passed, or I didn’t pass. Above 5, or under 5…

I got a 6,87. It’s nothing to be proud of. But I passed. And I did it in Spanish. 🙂 And some of the Spanish students didn’t, and I know because we all got an email informing us of the consequences for those students. And I passed. 🙂 I can do this.

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 22:04  Leave a Comment  
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