Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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Dearest readers! Come on over to my new website to continue reading about my adventures in Spain!

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Bigger and better things ahead

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two Thanksgivings in six kitchens

This year was the fourth time in the last five years that I've had Thanksgiving away from home, (2008 in Italy, 2010-12 in Spain) and I have to say they just keep getting better and better.
Turkey Day 2010
This year involved two different celebrations, in Málaga and Granada, and you guessed it, they came from six different kitchens.

Part one in Málaga with friends I just played a helping role, making the sweet potatoes at my place (kitchen 1), taking them to Cait's place to stick them in the oven where she was preparing the rest of the food (kitchen 2), and then taking everything to Edu's place where we did last minute reheating and made the gravy and mashed potatoes (kitchen 3).

This Thanksgiving dinner consisted of about 14 people, six nationalities, and only one person an actual Malagueño.

The reason I didn't play a bigger role in this Thanksgiving were the plans I had for the following weekend in Granada. I had decided long before that I wanted to make dinner for the novio's family, because after all, they're my family too now.

Let's talk about planning a Thanksgiving dinner, when you're not in the city in which you'll be cooking, and trying to get non-Americans to understand just how big an endeavor this would be. I was going to arrive in Granada late Friday night and begin cooking Saturday morning. There was definitely no time for a major shopping trip. Throughout the week I was making shopping lists, planning cooking schedules, while the novio was trying to understand why it took so much time and effort to plan one dinner!

First, I got the novio's sister in Granada to order a turkey from a butcher and arrange for it to be picked up the morning of the dinner. Then, I bought everything that doesn't need refridgeration here in Malaga and stuck it in what became the heaviest suitcase I've ever transported. Imagine the total weight of a whole pumpkin, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cans of green beans, a few liters of chicken stock, nearly all my spices, suagr, brown sugar... you get the idea. We nearly broke the suitcase in the process.

Friday night we took a late bus to Granada and stayed in the novio's parents place for the night so I could get straight to work using their oven in the morning (kitchen 4). But even before that, when we arrived late that night I went straight to the kitchen to make the dough for the pie crust, and then stick it in the fridge overnight.

Saturday morning I started about 10am, planning on a Spanish dinner at about 9pm. I began baking the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin while I sent the novio to pick up the turkey. The problem with letting him loose in the city where he grew up is that he's going to run into a million people he knows, then he's going to go see his sister (where we would later eat), and then he would come back, having forgtten the turkey in his sister's apartment.

I didn't freak out. The turkey would need about 3.5 or 4 hours in the oven, and I was still doing okay on time. I continued chopping vegetables and began making the stuffing while we sent the novio's dad to get the turkey. We waited, and waited, and waited. We called him. No answer. We called all relatives around to see if he had stopped to visit someone. No one had seen him. Turkey and father were both missing. He eventually showed up, having taken his time idling around town, but now I knew dinner would most definitely be later than planned. But this is Spain, what was I thinking anyway?

The next problem came shortly after. I cleaned and seasoned the turkey, and put it in the oven. A bit of advice for anyone making a turkey in Spain, consult your oven size before choosing your turkey size. This giant just barely fit, touching both sides of the oven. I had planned on baking other dishes at the same time as the turkey, but this guy said "No! All this space is for me!"

Therefore, kitchen number 5 came into play. While I stayed to continue basting the turkey, I sent the novio to his grandma's house across town with fully prepared dishes of sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, and biscuits to bake in her oven. I gave him complete lists with temperatures and baking times for each item.
Rolling out pie crust, a wine bottle my rolling pin
So I babysat the turkey in the oven, the novio ran all over Granada transporting food, came back to get me and the pumpkin pies which I'd also had time to make, and we ran off to his sister's apartment (kitchen 6) where 20 friends and family members were waiting and I quickly did all the reheating I could sans oven.

Yes, you read that correctly. I made dinner for 20 people, 22 including the novio and me. Quite different from any of my other Thanksgivings in Spain, everyone was Spanish except me! It was buffet style because there was no where near enough table spaces and chairs, but that didn't mean any less eating.

By the end of the night the turkey (seven kilos!) had been picked clean and the mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, and gravy completely devoured. Left-overs only consisted of pumpkin pie (I made two because I love it so much!), sweet potatoes (again, I made a double batch), and stuffing.

All in all, it was agreed that Thanksgiving definitely needs to be exported to Spain!
Happy and full
Part of my Granada family and friends, already looking forward to next Thanksgiving

Monday, November 26, 2012

My internet story

I moved in to my current apartment on August 23. This past weekend, three months later, we finally got internet at home. We tried contracting internet with four different companies, and all told us that it wasn't possible. We tried fibre optic. Our building doesn't have the proper cables. We tried ADSL several times, but we can't get a phone line either.
Story of my life
We live in center of one of the biggest cities in a first world country. So what was the problem? Our story starts 15 years ago with a man named José María Aznar, who was president of Spain at the time. He was not exactly popular, to put it mildly. The novio tells me that his family spent the years of Aznar's presidency (1996-2004) throwing things at the TV when ever he appeared. Among his most unpopular actions was supporting and contributing troops to George Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003. But what did he do to cause me to be trapped in a 19th century time warp? In 1997 he sold and privatized Spain's national broadband and telecommunication provider, Telefónica. (Selling it to a friend of his, of course) The European Union has since declared this action illegal.
"Yes, I screwed you over" he laughs
How does that affect me? Until 1997, Spain's landline telephones were a public entity. Selling Telefónica resulted in one company having a complete monopoly of phone lines in Spain. And boy do they take advantage of it.

For example, payphones here don't give change. You used a 2 euro coin to make a twenty cent phone call? Too bad for you. Telefónica just robbed you.
A machine designed for theft
Telefónica has been fined and sued for abuse of its dominant position numerous times since its privatization. Most notably, 57 million euros in 2004 for unfair competition, and a fine from the European Commission of 152 million euros for abuse of its dominant position

So what has Telefónica done to me? When they installed phone lines in my plaza, they made a finite number individual lines available, which is less then the number of apartments and businesses trying to get access. Meaning that when we try to contract ADSL internet, which runs off of a phone line, Telefónica says "Sorry, no more phone lines for you." Our landlord told us that there was an operating phone line in the apartment, but when the last tenant left someone else quickly grabbed the available line.

I might be a technology-addicted Generation Y baby, but in the 21st century I find it completely ridiculous that in a metropolitan area, I can't get a phone line.

The root of the problem: Telefónica is a private company, that does what le de la gana, as they say here. If they don't feel like installing more phone lines, they don't have to. The fact that a for-profit organization chooses not to provide service to a potential customer is beyond me.

The less-than-desirable solution we've found, which we knew of all along but were trying to avoid, is Instanet, an internet service that operates without a phone line. It's overpriced and offers a fraction of the speed we wanted (30€/month + 60€ to start for an average of 1-3 Mbps). But with our only other option being moving to a new place, breaking our contract, and losing a month of rent in the deposit, I'll take it.

I Skyped with my family this weekend for the first time in ages, and that's all that really matters now. Now I can do important things like pick out the wrapping paper for my Christmas presents from my mom's selection, and watch the cat attack the Christmas tree in my parents' house.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Long distance democracy

In 2008 the U.S. presidential election fell during a week I had off from classes in Rome, so I, of course, was traveling. Travel schedules and being a tourist meant that sleep was more important than staying up all night to watch the results live, so I went to bed at a normal time the day of the election. The next morning at breakfast the hostel cafeteria was buzzing with energy as people from all over the world commented on Obama's victory in all varieties of languages.

For the first time in eight years, the United States had a president that was perceived positively overseas. I noticed the change in attitude towards Americans shortly after. A couple days later I was taking a taxi in Madrid, chatting with the driver. He asked where I was from, I told him the U.S. His face lit up with a huge grin. "¡Con Obama!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. Yes, I affirmed smiling back, with Obama.

 This is my fourth time voting from overseas (2008 presidential election, 2010 midterms, 2012 primary, and now), and the third foreign address I've registered with. I guess you can say it's routine by now. I pay the price of an international stamp to mail in my ballot (0.85€ at the moment), but democracy still feels so good.
My actual ballot, which I mailed in a couple weeks ago. Naturally, I love the fact that it's in both English and Spanish. It could be because I vote from my home state of California, which has a high Spanish speaking population, but if this were nation wide I would be ecstatic. Americans voting from other states, do your ballots look like this? Are they multilingual?

Now I just need to find an election-watch party to attend. This not-so-patriotic expat just might wear red white and blue on November 6 for a change. After that, it will depend on the results.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What the NY Times didn't say

On September 24, The New York Times published a series of photos titled ¨In Spain, Austerity and Hunger¨ detailing how the economic crisis has affected Spain. Yes, the crisis is real here. I personally know people who have lost jobs, who have had to move to other countries to find work, who are struggling to make ends meet. This is the image of Spain that The New York Times has presented to America. All photo credit to Samuel Aranda for the New York Times.
A Cuban immagrant who moved to a mobile home after losing his construction job
An anti-austerity demonstration in Jaén
It´s not pretty, and it´s completely real. But it is far from the whole story of Spain, and no where near an accurate representation of what it´s like to live here. With Mitt Romney making comments that he doesn´t want the United States to end up like Spain, I ask myself, what does America really know about Spain? They don´t eat tacos and enchiladas, they are not all tan and dark haired like our image of Mexicans, and most importantly, they do not all dig in trash bins for their food. Read what the New York Times has to say, look at the pictures, because they´re all real, but then, look at this.

A Spanish news network, Antena 3, has responded. They issused a call for photos of the other side of Spain, the part that wasn´t included in the New York Times. I personally submitted several. I haven´t seen them published yet, but I´ll include them here:
 Spaniards learning about American culture. Something Americans could use a little of in reverse.
 Beautiful landscapes.
 Mouth-watering cuisine.

Spain is not a third world country. It's going through an economic crisis, but at the end of the day, Spaniards will always take care of each other. Explore other pictures that have been submitted. You will see Spain and its people, from all walks of life, in their everyday life in this beautiful country- exactly the part that American media is missing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pillow talk

Let’s talk pillows.

Truth: On a single bed, intended for one person to sleep, there is normally one single pillow. Exhibit A: my shared bedroom for the month I spent in Sevilla when I first came to Spain back in 2010.
Truth: On a double bed, intended for two people to sleep, there are normally two pillows. One for each person. Or two for one person who stretches out a lot. Exhibit B: My bedroom in my apartment in Málaga my first two years.
That all makes perfect sense, right? End of story? Not in Spain.

Little did I know just how abnormal my pillow situation in Málaga was for Spain. You see, here, a double bed does not mean two pillows, but rather one really long pillow. What I, and I think many others, would call a body pillow.
Using such a pillow at the head of a bed, which two people are intended to share, is something I don’t understand about Spain, and of which the Spaniard has yet to convince me. It results in an all out war over the pillow. Turning it over to the cold side, folding it in half to raise your head to read, and all other movements of the pillow, must be done in coordination. How do you do that when the other person is asleep? I can tell you it’s not exactly comfortable having a pillow pulled out from under your head.

Nevertheless, in my experience most Spaniards seem to be attached to this custom. A friend of the Spaniard’s went to Germany for a year to study. In Germany, he went shopping for a pillow for his new apartment. Much to his dismay, he couldn’t find a pillow long enough for his double bed. For months this caused him much anguish. How is one supposed to sleep with a pillow that doesn’t occupy the full width of the bed? Buy two pillows? Don’t talk nonsense. Thankfully, the poor soul came home to Spain for a short visit and was able to bring his proper, full-length pillow back to Germany, and finally he was able to sleep at night.

In our new apartment in Málaga, our landlord obviously doesn’t like to spend a lot of money. Our poor bed is deprived of the normal body pillow and instead has two of the scrappiest little excuses for pillows I’ve ever seen, and the sheet sets have two small pillowcases. This just won’t do. Luckily, the landlord’s wife had so kindly sewn the two cases together to create the more traditional long one. All we have to do is insert the two small balls of fluff, and viola! We have the typical pillow of Spain- one lovely long tube across the entire bed- but not really.
This American needs her two fluffy pillows, which in Spain means buying your own and carting them with you every time you move.

This is so worth the suitcase space.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Technical difficulties

There´s a minor prerequisite to maintaining a blog- having internet.

The Spaniard and I moved in to the new apartment (which we love, by the way) over two weeks ago. Shortly after we evaluated options for internet, chose a company, and called to contract them. And then the waiting game began.

A week later, we´ve received a call from Telefónica saying they would come that afternoon to install the phone line. Then they called saying that because our building is so old they needed some other part they didn´t have. We´ll call you back. Famous last words.

A week later, we called. Where the hell is our internet? Umm, we´ll check in to your case and call you back. Ugh.

In the mean time, I´ve had a ton of blog ideas, I´ve missed all the speeches from both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and I have friends with outstanding Skype dates from at least four months ago.

I´ll be back, I promise, when my source of internet is something other than the 3G on my Kindle.