It’s been some time since I’ve used this blog, and the other blogs I’ve been working don’t seem an appropriate place for my thoughts. Summer has folded and here we have autumn dusting us with crispy leaves and we know her by the coolness of the drafts passing between her teeth, don’t we? Where to begin?
I have left America for a tour of the world. In the end there it happened, likely because of my lack of creativity, that I became fed up not with the people of America, but of Indiana’s timbre and pitch, so to speak. Indiana, sure, but also American media left me cold, American political stories had distilled and congealed to a constant, malignant buzz and my furrows had grown too deep. Finally I couldn’t bear again to pay rent, or pay bills, or wake up and fear being late for work, or sit at work and wonder why I wasn’t doing something meaningful with my life. It was fear, I suppose, which brought me to Spain. I looked around at my compatriots and saw many beautiful, brilliant people making their way too slowly. I could not do it, and for that I suppose I haven’t any taste for “the American Way”.
So I came to Spain, the first stop of my journey. I followed Savannah here and have begun tutoring students, having just completed a CELTA certification course in Denver. While I’ve been grappling with culture shock a bit, I can feel myself growing as a person. I am changing in all the ways I sensed I could but could not through the course of a purely American life. Spain is a remarkable place:
I don’t have an automatic can opener. I don’t have a clothes dryer. I don’t have a toaster. I don’t have a microwave. I don’t have a coffee maker. Savi has no hair dryer or straightener. We don’t have a car, a motorcycle, or a scooter. We have a television that has only been dark for us and is gathering dust. A life without so many auxiliary machines feels more natural, and by consequence of this feeling of simplicity, this lack of whirring and beeping, I feel more at ease and more given to deeper, more thorough thought processes than I was in the States. I think when I return I’ll be disappointed to see machines again and even more disappointed to witness a population’s growing reliance upon them.
Every night of the week is an opportunity to socialize in this part of Spain. After siesta, during which the wind passes through the streets unobstructed by man nor beast, the shops reopen, the cafés set their grids of chairs and tables onto the cobblestone and the people flood out from their houses in their good clothes, pushing their designer baby carriages and smoking their cigarettes. The park becomes full, with families on benches, sitting on the fountain ledge, milling together, seeing each other, and talking loudly enough to be heard in a wide radius. A woman pushing a baby cart might need 45 minutes to cross a plaza as she pit-stops a dozen times to compare her baby with another couple’s. People with arms full of groceries who might clearly be in a hurry to get home and begin cooking stop for ten minutes to talk to an acquaintance on a narrow street as small European or Japanese cars squeeze by not a foot from their elbows.
Over 28 years in the United States, and after having visited countless towns, I have never witnessed socializing of this scale. In Bloomington, for example, people make plans with their friends and go out in pods (or alone) and maybe head-nod or smile politely at others until their group arrives. Pods of people pass each other on the street, individuals say, “Hi, how are you?” and their target says, “Fine; you?” and no response is expected or given. Admittedly, this interaction has always bothered me a bit but my aim is to highlight a contrast in social dynamics; what takes a moment in the US takes ten minutes in Spain and for that time spent is more thoroughly accomplished. I am led to wonder why in small towns in the US that many people (myself included) feel a tad loathe to meet others on the street due to a creeping anti-social dread of what a given social interaction might entail. I can see it now:
You and your friends: chatchatchatchatchat, etc.
Someone looks up the street and says: Oh look, it’s X.
X, passing by: Hey, what’s up?
You, over your shoulder: Not much, what’s up with you?
X, over their shoulder, walking on: Not much!
Do consequences of shallow encounters like these include forgetting of names, feelings of isolation, and the aforementioned anti-social thoughts? After having too many of these socially significant but emotionally empty encounters and after experiencing a richer take on socializing I have forgiven myself for dreading seeing people I consider my friends and acquaintances. The dread which I felt was the same dread an unchallenged student feels when the prospect of again attending that obligatory featherweight class rears its head each morning. The path of a ten-second conversation is inherently hamstrung by its shortness while what may happen in ten, twenty, or thirty minutes is anyone’s guess. And if you’re wondering what a person could possibly talk about for twenty minutes during a casual meeting on the street, imagine that you know a good deal of news about all of your acquaintances.
This highlight of socializing makes for a nice paradigm or example of Spain’s apparent preference of humanity over responsibility. Time is money in America, but in the less-Westernized parts of Spain, time is still time, pregnant with possibility. Your boss is a person before they are your boss. Your landlord has just called and wants to have a beer. Your neighbor is up in her window and wants to talk about her weekend. There is work to do, but the sun will rise tomorrow, too; how about a café con leche?
Well, that’s enough about culture for now. I’m sure I’ll have more general notes on things I notice, but this is beginning to look very anti-American; on the contrary, I mean only to contrast two cultures which are at once not commonly contrasted and worth contrasting, at least to me.
We’ve just had our first couch-surfers! They were (and remain, I suspect) a young French couple on sabbatical from university. Hosting is a good time and I recommend it to anyone. It’s fun to trade stories and recipes and to make friends who share an interest in traveling. Over the course of four days I cooked a few meals for all of us and our boarders reciprocated with some delicious French cuisine. They came offering Kinder eggs and left with a 7-pack of Snickers bars. I’m becoming a fan of the whole Intercambio/cultural exchange concept, which isn’t to say I wasn’t a fan before but am much bolder a fan for my experiences.
Oh, and something else…I think a story from my life might be cast on the international stage soon. Those of you who read this blog and are aware, or who are even players in the international mystery illustrated in a much earlier post might have an inkling of what I’m talking about here. I don’t know whether this will happen this year or next year, but I’ve heard from a perfectly reliable source that the story’s going to be published for all to read.
Keep your thinking muscular.
Recipe – Omelette and Home Fries
6 whole mushrooms
1 green pepper
1/4-1/2 stick of butter
grape tomatoes (optional)
salt, pepper, whatever other spices you’d like to taste in your potatoes
Boil potatoes for 15 minutes until softened.
Meanwhile, dice half the onion and slice the other half into, say, five or six segments, across the grain. Julienne the pepper, or at least cut it into planks; don’t dice! Slice the mushrooms. On an oiled cooking sheet, spread the mushrooms, onions, and grape tomatoes about, coating them with a little of the olive oil. Season the mix to your liking. Preheat oven to 375-400 and when potatoes are done boiling, place the chopped vegetables in the oven.
Mix up a couple cups of creme fraiche and dill. Set aside.
Drain and cool the potatoes. Chop them into bite-size chunks. Toss a healthy slab of butter into a frying pan and heat on medium until it’s melted. Place potatoes, pepper planks, and diced onions into pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir a bit as they cook.
Throw a slab of butter into another frying pan (large) and heat on medium until melted. Crack all four eggs and drop them into the pan. Break the yokes with a spatula and mix well, until the coloring of the pan’s contents is consistently yellow. Salt and pepper, and splash in a little fresh cream, or a dollop depending on how you interpreted “creme fraiche”. Grate a layer of good cheese over the eggs as they cook.
Check on the roasting vegetables. If the edges of the onions are beginning to singe, take them out of the oven and set aside, covered if you can.
Once the eggs are solidified enough, dump the roasted mushrooms and onions into the pan. Separate the eggs from the bottom of the pan with a spatula and fold over, creating an omelette. Cook for a few minutes this way and turn over, being careful not to spill your vegetables all over the place. Cook for another couple of minutes and then cut omelette into four fat pieces and remove from pan, placing one piece on each plate.
Keep turning the potatoes, onions, and peppers over to keep them from burning in the pan. Once the potatoes are browned sufficiently for your taste, divvy up the pan between the four plates. The two which received the ends of the omelette are compensated with more vegetables than those who received the plentiful middle portions. Dole several roasted grape tomatoes to each plate and slap a dollop of creme fraiche atop the vegetables. Serve with juice, coffee, and water.