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By the time most of you read this, I will already be back in the States. It’s been quite the journey, eh? From the beginnings–the confusion, the excitement, the new-ness of it all–to the end–which feels so much like the beginning. I can’t even call it an ending. For me, it’s just shift between one chapter in the book of my life and the next one. Instead of being sad about leaving, I’m excited to see how the motifs and themes that run throughout my Madrid Chapter will spice, permeate,and affect the other events in new chapters to come.

Frederico Garcia Lorca in Plaza Santa Ana

While I pondered this year and what it’s brought me, I was reminded of my list of  goals I wanted to accomplish that I wrote at the beginning of this year. I was prepared to write today about how I hadn’t managed to accomplish any of it. What a pleasant surprise! Not only had I managed to fulfill three out of the six to the letter, I also managed to adapt two to a more realistic goal. What’s more, I discovered a passion for cooking, improved my running and Spanish, got to know this city, and travel. It has been a wonderful time. I don’t have any regrets. I created a life here and lived it.

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With less than fifteen days left in good ole España, I set off on a two part trip: First to the south-west and then to the south-east. I would start by visiting a historically significant town, therefore broadening my understanding of Spanish culture and history, and end on a beach, staring at bright blue Mediterranean waters and broadening my understanding of the Good Life.

Emily and I left for Córdoba last Thursday morning. We arrived during the heat of the day. Spanish heat is unique: it’s dry, it’s oppressive, and suddenly you understand why there is a siesta. It’s recently been so hot in my apartment that candle wax is pliable, and my left-over cookie-making chocolate is melting in the cabinets. Spaniards spend most of the day with the shades lowered, huddling in the shade, and flapping their albanicos (hand-held fans) like their life depends on it. Yes, folks, that stereotypical conception of Spaniards and their flamenco and their hand-held fans is completely true! I also have one, and it’s a life saver.

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Oh, Fulbright experience in Madrid, how do I measure thee? Let me count the ways…

  • 10 abonos (or monthly Metro passes)
  • 16 new places visited
  • hundreds of conversations over cañas, G&Ts, and tintos de verano 
  • 3 new Spanish teacher-friends
  • over 200 days of school
  • 6 visits from the States
  • 1 acampada del sol
  • Hours and hours spent wandering around, getting to know My Madrid
  • Hundreds of Metro singers, dancers, and beggars
  • 5o million  postcards sent from my dad
  • 1 awesome Thanksgiving and 12 guests
  • Over 300 cookies (chocolate chip, chocolate chip walnut, sugar, gingerbread) + a few cakes
  • 4 new roommates
  • 3 sinus infections
  • Less than 2 weeks left in one of the best cities in the whole world!
The list could go on and on…

Obviously there is no way that I can truly enumerate my time here in Madrid. In fact, if anything, looking of each of my bullets, I feel like the time I’ve spent here  is diminished. Instead I prefer to look at this year as an amazing year of growth brought on by lots of challenges, patience, support, and lots of love.

Last weekend was the birthday of one of my roommates, Raquel. She invited us to her home to celebrate in Cáceres, where her mother and brother live.  Ana, another roommate, had her mother’s car with her, so she offered to drive us down. We left Friday afternoon. I promptly feel asleep in the back seat. It had been a long morning.

On the Way: A tower and a solar panel field

I’ve been giving private English lessons to one of my students. She wanted to try and enter the bilingual section next year. On Friday she had to take a test that would rate her level of English. Of course, my school being my school, there was quite a bit of tension about the whole thing. We had to test the entire bilingual section, plus a couple of students from other classes. My girl, Paula, has a different English teacher, who, naturally, doesn’t get along with MC. Needless to say, MC had to take the whole situation (that there was a girl who wanted to come from an enemy’s class, which would prove to everyone that MC wasn’t a good teacher, of course (…)) personally. First, I had to basically pull teeth to get MC to even administer the test. Then I had to watch as all my American test-taking culture crashed horribly with that of the Spanish. MC simply copied a practice test out of the book, and then decided to cut out a good portion of the test. Just because. And then she decided to try and talk to these poor kids (who were practically crying they were so nervous) during the test, making snide comments, etc. Glad to be done with that.

What’s the point? That after being extremely nervous about the outcome of Paula, watching the tension build between MC and the other teacher, being at school from 8 until 2 without a break: I was quite tired. Luckily, Paula passed! I was so happy. I was also very tired. Therefore, I slept most of the way to Raquel’s home.

We arrived and went on a walk around town. Cáceres is the capital of Extremadura, or a south-western region in Spain. It had the most beautiful old city center, which we got to see at night. Cáceres has Roman foundations, but most of what I saw was medieval. It was breath-taking and heart-achingly beautiful. Another classic example of what you think of when you think of Spain.

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The other week I went to my first fútbol match with my (new) friends from Colorado. We went to go see Real Madrid: The Legends. This means that I didn’t see a single famous player, but it was ok. The tickets were cheap, the company was great. Spaniards, for as much as they love soccer, aren’t nearly as out of hand as Argentines. Argentine fans really feel the passion for their team: and they let it show. Spaniards, as dressed in fan gear as a Steelers’ fan, tend to be much more relaxed in their soccer game watching.  Yes, there are still the shouts, cheering, and energy, but there’s less of a mess from paper being thrown on the field.

Still a great time!

I also went to La Feria de Tapas, or the Tapas Fair. They had something like 40 independent restaurants in individual booths selling their tapas at a euro twenty each. Each vendor offered three different options, meaning I was presented with more than 120 items to choose from. It was quite nice to moozey around, looking at what was being offered, and, of course, tasting. I had an ostrich burger, duck confit, and my first albondigas, or Spanish meatballs. It was all quite delicious.

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Madrid is really cool for various reasons. One of them is the plethora of free newspapers available to commuters, published Monday through Friday. There are various types: ones with more pop culture, other with international happenings, and even one (named “20 Seconds”) that writes articles the length of which it would take the average person to read between metro stops. Spaniards are generally well-read, partly, I believe, because of the amount of time they spend commuting. We can add “Not being able to read while commuting because I will have to drive a car” to my list of “What I Will Miss About Living In Spain” list. It’s a long list.

Today, I grabbed an abandoned metro paper, Qué!, as I headed into work.

Oh, funny story. So today, I overslept for the first time in the whole year! Guess what today is? The last Monday of the last week of school. Ha. Joke’s on me. Luckily, I only missed a language exchange between me and another teacher, making it into work just in the nick of time for my classes.

I scanned through the paper, reading about sundry things, when I hit the Sudoku page. I am a sucker for Sudoku. And it was an easy one. I got out my pen, and started filling it in. As I hit my stop, I started to stow my newspaper away. As I had the paper folded over while working on the puzzle, I missed this fancy little headline: “Atlanta Police Warn Against Zombie Invasion.”

It’s true folks! Atlanta made Sudoku page news! This small article didn’t mention that Atlanta was a city in the state of Georgia in the big US of A, but when I saw that the Atlanta Police had placed signs on “one of the busiest streets in Cobb Country” I knew it was Atlanta, sweet Atlanta!

As I said earlier, this is my last week of classes so I am currently quite busy! I leave this coming weekend to Cáceres, a city in the south-west of Spain, to celebrate my roommate Raquel’s birthday. Afterwards, I will be alternating between trips and saying good bye to this great city. I hope to put out a few more posts before the end of my stay, so stay posted!

Here’s one of my favorite phrases in Spanish: “You eat pretty well… for an American.” I have received this compliment (can I call it that? …do I want to?) several times over the last nine months. I’m not sure what it is that elicits such comments from the Spanish, but they seem pretty begrudged to have their stereotypes that all Americans eat fast food and Snickers bars broken.

The American diet (after our international policies and general Yankee cockiness) is one of the Spanish’s favorite topics to scold me on. I think it has to do with the fact that food is so full of cultural pride. What’s surprising to me is that  I can’t explain why I get so angry when a non-American tries to bash my nation’s eating habits; perhaps because most of the time I agree with them: we eat too much and we don’t eat well. The research is there. Yet, I just can’t let it go.

Perhaps one of the reasons that I find this topic so aggravating is because of how I see Spanish food. I see the Spanish out and about every day, eating croquettes (fried), cured ham (fat), cheese (fat), wine (well… I guess that’s ok), fried eggs (cholesterol), and Spanish omelette (perhaps the best thing out there, but again cholesterol), among lots of white, bleached bread. The PE teacher at my school was absolutely mystified, and I mean mystified, that I was snacking on fresh celery and carrots. He was eating a white baguette sandwich with a half pound of salami and ham on it. The PE teacher folks… come on now.

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