Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait (Tables)

As a true-blood college student, when I hear the phrase ‘free food’, my ears immediately perk up. So when our group arrived in Granada last weekend, and the guidebook recommended a restaurant where free paella was served with a drink, we headed straight there. Reputedly the oldest bar in Granada, it was no surprise to us why it had stuck around so long. When we arrived, the restaurant was the typical Spanish ‘bodega’—packed full with people, the majority standing with plates in hand, waiters yelling in rapid Spanish, people throwing their money behind the bar, and just general madness. But amidst all the chaos, it was clear the diners were enjoying their food and their atmosphere.

Once we finally managed to squeeze ourselves up to the bar, we ordered our paella, served with small baskets of bread. A group of friends came in after us and asked me for extra bread, so I asked the waiter to exchange my small basket for a bigger one. Hearing my request, our 40-year old bartender did a double-take, and said, “Más pan? Eres gordita!” (More bread? You are a little fat one!) clearly not realizing I was not planning on eating the whole bread basket myself. Though I tried to explain it was not for me, he chose to continue believing I would be eating the whole basket alone. A few minutes later he returned to ask me if I had a boyfriend. Clearly, he was into the little fat ones.

As I shouted across the bar, “You are way too old for me!” I realized I had used the wrong form of old—the kind that you should never use with anyone under 60. I worried about this for about 10 seconds before Haley reminded me that I was worrying about offending a man who had just called me fat. He attempted to assure me he was only 22, and then shouted something I could not quite make out. I have this problem here in Spain that when I don’t understand something, I just kind of nod my head along as to say ‘mmhmm.’ My friend whipped around next to me and informed me, “You just told him you believe in love at first sight!” That was news to me.

Our exchanges continued for the next hour or so. I watched as he gave an older couple a bread basket that was twice the size of mine, and demanded to know why he hadn’t called them fat as well. Because they are ACTUALLY fat, he reassured me. You, are not. Thank you, Mr. 40-year old waiter, you are too kind.

But the lunch was not quite complete. Egged on by the rest of my group, I told the waiter I’d like to take a picture with him. The deal was, a picture with one kiss on the cheek = 5 euros for Gayle. Instead of reaching across the bar like I thought we might do though, he kindly invited me to come around the other side of the 40-foot bar. As I squeezed my way through the hoards of people and got behind the bar, I assured the other confused looking bartenders that I had a ‘friend’ back there. I made it to my man, and cameras ready, I gave him the promised big old kiss on the cheek. The restaurant exploded into cheers—the fat little American girl had kissed the bartender…YAY! The aftermath, indicated by the picture above, was filled with one bright red face, and the quickest restaurant escape I’ve ever had. The conclusion—I actually don’t believe in love at first sight, but love at first bite? With free paella, anything is possible.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Once (and only once!) in a Lifetime Experience

Though it seems to be February’s buzzword of Europe, up until last weekend, Carnaval had been a foreign concept to me. But Saturday night, we got to know one another quite personally. For all you fellow Wolverines, imagine a Greenwood block party plus Nightmare on Elm Street, but multiply it by 100 and take away the police arriving at 11 pm. For all of you who have never had the privilege of experiencing an Ann Arbor block party, try to visualize the masses in Times Square on New Year’s Eve dressed in the most ridiculous costumes you can think of. This should give you a general idea of Carnaval, or the rest of the world’s version of Mardi Gras. Carnaval in Cadiz is one of the biggest street festivals in the world, where people come from all over Spain, and even Europe, to celebrate.

But to celebrate what? To be 100% honest, I couldn’t tell you. I’d say it’s somewhere along the lines of celebrating life in general. Carnaval begins the weekend before the start of Lent, and was originally intended to be a meat-eating holiday, as all the Catholics prepared to enter a 40-day fast from meat. But unless churros with chocolate now have some sort of meat in them, I unfortunately think the original purpose has long-since been lost. As my group stepped off our tour bus into the throngs of people, we turned to each other a little confused and said, “But what do we DO?”

The fact that there really seemed to be nothing to do besides walk through the streets socializing with all the elaborately dressed people just added to the novelty of Carnaval. Our groups mission quickly became to make as many friends as possible and find the best costumes on the street before the night’s end. I had chosen to forego the 30 euro cliché costumes that filled every store in Sevilla and put my creativity to the test, spending 5 euros on glow-in-the-dark stars, glow-stick style glasses, and some face paint, from which I morphed myself into a starry night sky! Despite the face that I started the night with 40 stars covering my clothes and returned home with only four remaining (turns out that star tack doesn’t work too well on clothes!), I’d say it was a general success. And though arriving in a group with both a lamp (Haley) and a tree (Lyndsay) heightened our standards for creative costumes on the streets, we still managed to find Shrek and Fiona, a bush to match Lyndsay, and a transvestite wearing a dress I own!

While the night was clearly a blast, I would definitely put it into the category of a ONCE in a lifetime experience. It was fun while it lasted, but I don’t plan on going back anytime soon. Leaving my house at 7:30 pm to not return until 6 am is not something that I would like to do on a regular basis (I now know why the Spaniards love their siestas so much…)

And on one final note, after an inspiring video passed along by my dad, I have decided to trade in my current salsa dancing partners (Shakira and the bathroom mirror) for my dog, Rhumba. Enjoy ☺

Monday, February 8, 2010

A City to Celebrate

Yesterday, February 6, marked two significant events. Not only did the ‘snowpocolpyse’ hit the US’s East Coast, bringing the heaviest snowstorm in 90 years to the nation’s capital, but it was also the first day of flip-flop season in Sevilla! (I can start the hate mail now..) I happily wandered through the sunny streets in a sundress and sandals, an outfit that at this time of year here screams ‘American’, and yet I still wasn’t concerned. It was the perfect day in Sevilla.

While on a run, I discovered a huge park that combines the best of both NYC’s Central Park and the Arb in AA. Accordingly, I immediately fell in love. I stumbled upon a free outdoor concert, where a string quartet was playing Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’ (aka the ice-cream truck song!) and I couldn’t help but laugh as the audience listened intently. I later wandered past a group of street musicians playing Celion Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ again with a group of avid appreciators gathered around, clearly unaware of the nude Titanic scene this song brings to the minds of all who have seen the movie.

I ended the day out with some friends, where we discovered a new bar filled with Spanish students (finally escaping the American scene—success!) One of the boys I met asked me if I was interested in ‘studying the body,’ and just as I was about to tell him I was actually studying political science, I fortunately realized he was attempting to be witty and wasn’t actually talking about human biology. Picking up Spanish sarcasm AND telling someone off in Spanish: Check!

Aside from my fabulous Saturday, I had my first salsa lesson in Sevilla’s classiest club on Thursday night (note: sarcasm.) Melissa and I stood in an awkward line of uncoordinated American girls trying to mimic the steps of our bodacious instructor who shook her hips like Shakira. After about 20 minutes of embarrassing myself, I decided Americans are just clearly not meant to dance like the Spaniards.

But, I have a little more than 2 months till Feria, Spain’s giant spring street festival, where salsa-dancing skills are essentially mandatory. So I have not given up! Just acknowledged that it may take a little longer than I was hoping to start ‘moving my hips like yeah’ (yes, I have not forgotten about Miley Cyrus since getting to Spain). Luckily my program center offers free weekly lessons, which I will start come March. Until then, looks like it will be me, Shakira, and the bathroom mirror...