Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Surprises

To put things in perspective as to how full this day was, I'm writing this post at 3 am Spain time, and there is still music blaring at least three or four blocks away which I can hear as clear as water with a Turbidity of 0.0 NTU (Waterlab plug) with my window closed.  With that sort of introduction, you might be thinking to yourself, "shoot, this is going to be a rant about what a tiresome, stressful day it was for him. Logging off . . ." So to you I say, "WAAAIIITTT!! I'll make it worth your while. Keep reading please." Anyway, today started off kind of slow in that I sought to open a bank account with the school, which is necessary so the university can put money in my account for food and such.  It seems like it will be a simple process; I just need to return this Tuesday to finalize it.  I decided to make what I thought would be a quick stop to the Oficinia de Relaciones de Exteriores, but I quickly became distracted on my way there due to a large bicycle race known as "La vuelta."  Apparently, this is a regular event in Spain, but it hadn't been in Santiago since 1981.  Needless to say, the plaza in front of la catedral de Santiago was PACKED, more than I ever thought possible.  I guess the American equivalent would be a NASCAR event, especially since I did see a group of peregrinos (pilgrims) popping open a bottle of what looked like champagne.  Picture a Spanish Ricky Bobby (Talledega Nights) wearing a backpack and hiking shoes, and you'll get the idea.  Despite the historical tradition of el Camino, I guess the peregrinos have a lot of different reasons for doing it nowadays.

I really had no idea what I was going to do in the evening, so after practicing my saxophone in the most echoe-filled room in Monte da Condesa, I went to the lobby and read over some newspapers.  Then, as if it was (and it probably was) a God-send, I started talking with some Brazilian students, two of whom I had encountered very briefly two days before.  They invited me to join them for some night-time activities around the city organized by a group called "Sharing Galicia," dedicated to showing international students the sites of the town and country.  Before I continue, I should mention that there are a plethora of "Cafe-Bars" in Santiago de Compostela, perhaps one on every street.  We started at one, then went to another, one more, and then a very small discoteca (which also had a bar).  Now, I bet you might be thinking at this point, and it's okay to do so, "Ethan Alano, doing a bar crawl in a foreign city? Has the world gone MAD?" Well, to alleviate fears, and still justify this as a God-send, I can definitively say that no one went with the purpose of getting drunk, and everyone was perfectly safe (and that's MY definition of safe, which has very high standards).  When I think of an American bar crawl, the literal crawl from bar to bar due to sickness pops into my head.  Instead, the intention was to get to know others, which I did a lot of over the course of the evening.  At first, I was kinda fumbling over speaking in Spanish since this was my first time doing it in Spain for fun conversation.  Additionally, with everyone talking fast and loud at each location, it was often difficult to hear and understand.  However, I felt pretty good by the end of the night and realize this is the first step toward true fluency: speaking in social settings, being okay with making mistakes and correcting them, and learning from others.  Here are some more tidbits before I hit the hay:

1. The one drink I did take part in was native to Galicia.  I honestly didn't like it very much, as it tasted like glorified cough syrup, but the presentation was pretty sweet (no pun intended).  I don't remember the name in Spanish but they called it a witch's brew since they lit it on fire and said some repetitious words.  Before we drank it, I got the honor of putting out the fire by dropping a pan on top of the cauldron.  I dropped it a little harder than I thought I would, which surprised many at first but subsequently resulted in thunderous applause.

2. I'm glad I have a base group of friends now, or at least people I can get to know better, before classes begin.  I think it's the first step in establishing myself here.

3. Smoking is endemic in Spain.  All of the signs that say "No fumar" are definitely necessary, because I think people would smoke in a home with a gas leak if they could.  Unfortunately in my opinion, I think I'm starting to develop a tolerance for the smell, meaning I don't notice it on my clothes nor purposefully avoid a smoke cloud.  However, I don't plan on taking up smoking while I'm here (you can relax now, Mom :).

4. Some Spanish and Brazilian people actually know where Oregon is!  It's a very small percentage, but at least they don't immediately assume I'm from Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York when I say I'm from the states.

Thanks again for reading and commenting! Happy September :D  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Could've, would've, should've

¡Hola Todos!
I really appreciate the feedback I received from my first post. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed creative writing :) Now, before I proceed, you might think the title of this particular post will lend itself to a story full of mistakes, self-pity, and doubt.  However, that is only partly true since I was able to grow from and find humor in all the mistakes I made today.  Here's what I wanted to accomplish:
1) Visit la Oficina de Relaciones Exteriores (check check; this one actually went pretty well considering I circled the building at least five times trying to find the entrance).
2) Explore the city a little (also somewhat successful, but more to tell on this).
3) Open a Spanish bank account.
4) Apply for a student identification card via the Spanish police station.
Here's what happened in a nutshell (it may be a large nutshell after I'm done writing, so bear with me).
After meeting with Javier at la Oficina, I walked out toward the plaza near la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.  Before I continue, I should mention that I have been much more observant of my surroundings while abroad, constantly checking my wallet in my pocket and being ready to judo chop any sneaky arm trying to snatch my backpack.  I'm not sure if pickpockets are a huge problem in Santiago, but I didn't want to be "that foreigner." That being said, I unfortunately lost some money to someone who I'm 95% sure is a con artist.  Though it tickles me as a young person to use the word "swindle" or the phrase "I've been had!" in a sentence, it's not as cool as it sounds when it happens to you.  This young woman came up to me with a sign basically saying she was raising money for the, her words not mine, "Deaf and Dumb." In retrospect, there were two signs she wasn't legit. First, me forgetting what the sign said, tried speaking to her in Spanish, so she continued to point at the Spanish version of the sign. I suppose she could have been a virtuoso at reading lips, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Secondly, when I started to give her a small donation, she crossed out what I wrote, pointed to another donation on the list, and made me match it.  I assume she had seen what I had in my wallet and knew I could give more. After she left, a man observing this across the way pointed his finger to his head and looked straight at me, as if to say, "Stupid American." After speaking with a few other people around, apparently I was not the first to be swindled, which made me feel a little better.  The amount of money was somewhat significant, but not nearly enough for me to still be upset.  I guess this is what they mean when they say, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice . . . invalid question because I won't even let you fool me twice." I think it goes something like that. I've heard it both ways.  All I can say is, I hope she at least puts the money to some honorable use, whatever it is.

Now a couple of tidbits from the rest of the day.
1) I noticed some little kids pointing at random people and shouting what to me sounded like "Feo," meaning ugly.  Needless to say, I hope I didn't get the point.  Also, I hope I was just hearing them wrong.
2) In one office where I was trying to open a Spanish bank account (it wasn't the right office, but the lady pointed me in the right direction), I noticed a fake newspaper clipping stating "¿Has visto el Joker?" (Have you seen the Joker?) Immediately the Dark Knight trilogy pops into my head and it takes everything I've got NOT to do my Heath Ledger impression.  Thankfully, there's still time.
3) I'm gradually becoming more comfortable with speaking in Spanish to others, but most of it has been out of necessity. I'm sure once school starts in a week, it will be much easier to talk with and get to know other students.  Though I'm aware I'll continue making mistakes with speaking and understanding, I realize studying abroad is a marathon, not a sprint.

Thanks for reading and keep coming back for a good laugh!

Vuestro amigo,


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Alano Identity

¡Saludos de Santiago de Compostela!
Before I proceed in spinning this great yarn, I must first give credit to my dear friend Zach Johnston, who cleverly came up with the title of this blog, "Vivalano," as we discussed catchy phrases over some Shari's Pie Shakes.  Obviously, this one took the cake (or pie?).  Anyway, though I've been planning this adventure for several months now in conjunction with the support of family, friends, and ISEP, the fact I was actually leaving did not hit me until the 26th, the day before my departure.  Additionally, as I started to unpack and move into my dorm room here, the reality of staying an academic year started to set in.  However, I'm getting ahead of myself; wind the clocks back two days.  My mom and dad, along with my sisters on Skype, presented me with a photo scrapbook highlighting particularly joyous moments in my life, at least from the last six years or so.  As I perused these photos like a psychic detective desperately searching for clues and 80s references, I grew somewhat sentimental, knowing that these specific events would not occur again.  Yet, it made me call to mind the great Dr. Seuss quote, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Not to mention, I now have the opportunity to make a new scrapbook to add to the collection!
I didn't think I would have much to write about my actual travel experience, but there are some nuggets of comedy I thought I could mention.  On the second leg of the trip, from Dallas to Madrid (at least a 9 hr journey), I already felt like I was being immersed into Spanish culture, probably because three quarters of the passengers were Spanish tourists returning home after an American vacation.   Oddly enough, even though I wasn't talking much on the plane, I began to think more in Spanish due to the side conversations around me.  For this part of the trip, at least two of the American Airlines flight attendants spoke fluent Spanish to the tourists while passing out refreshments, which serves as a good segway into a story.  During a round of refreshments, one of the flight attendants looked at me and simply said, "English?" It surprised me at first since she directed me to my seat IN English at the beginning of the flight.  Perhaps traveling for so long had made me look like an authentic Spaniard? Or she just didn't know what box to put me in from the outset.  Even though she spoke to me in my native tongue, I just sat there dumbfounded for a few seconds, too preoccupied by my increasingly sore rump.  I finally blurted out something like, "Yes, I English . . ." Not one of my prouder moments, but at least we can all laugh together now.
I took a taxi from the Santiago airport to Monte da Condesa, my residence hall.  I realized this was my first taxi ride ever and was slightly disappointed the driver wasn't the host of Cash Cab (If you haven't seen it, look it up; I was born ready for that).  Yet the driver and I began talking in Spanish, and he actually complemented me on my competency in the language.  Then Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" began playing on the radio, so I quickly lost focus for obvious reasons.  I thought I had temporarily escaped its catchy beats and memorable refrain, but apparently the Spanish aren't even immune.
I was feeling pretty good about my Spanish skills, considering it was the first day, until I began speaking with the receptionist at my residence hall.  Even after I told her I'm an international student, she continued speaking so fast as if Usain Bolt was running inside her mouth.  She spent an awful long time explaining what I needed to do with the towels and sheets she was giving me, so I hope I didn't lose a direction.  The icing on the cake was how often she used the word "Vale," which many Spaniards use to indicate "Okay." I often felt like I was agreeing to something multiple times, unless she would change one word, just to see if I would notice.
Well, it's been an enormously long day (or days I guess), so I will close this, the first of many posts, with some goals, in no particular order, I hope to accomplish whilst here.
1. Become fluent in Spanish, both in conversation and writing.
2. Learn some gallego (the language of Galicia), at least to be conversationally adequate.
3. Make some good friends, both Spanish and other international students.
4. Participate in the rich and ancient traditions of Spanish Catholicism and Christianity in general.
5. Fix the Spanish economy. Step 1: Fix. Step 2: It. Fix It!
6. Introduce the TV show "Psych" to Spain. This one is actually two birds with one stone. Its addition to the Spanish television networks would undoubtedly fix the economy.
7. Be persistent in writing this blog!
8. Finally, maintaining and building friendships and familial relationships back home.
If you can, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you, and knowing that people are actually reading this will keep me motivated to write!