Thursday, June 30, 2011


Tomorrow I leave Spain.

I said goodbye to my students two weeks ago and made one last trip south to Córdoba for two days with my friend Sam and on to Granada for another two days by myself while she went on to Alicante to visit a friend. Both of the cities are lovely, even if they hit over 100º F during the summer. With a huge sun hat for some shade, a bottle of water and a Spanish fan in hand, one can enjoy some spectacular sights.

The beautiful mezquita/cathedral in Córdoba

And yet my mind was elsewhere. Luckily in Córdoba, Sam’s company could distract me from the small city’s quietness. In Granada, I had no such diversion. I considered contacting someone on Couchsurfing, but I didn’t feel like being entertaining. There’s only so many people you can call on to hang out in such a mood, and of course, none of mine were in Granada.

Sam, traveler extraordinaire

So my final stop was marked by a lot of wandering, stops in plazas with a book, general laziness and as little conversation as possible.

I’m ready to come home. I’ve accomplished what I could at school; I’ve seen what I wanted to see; I’ve met some fabulous friends (thanks to all of you, by the way, for making this year amazing).

And that’s enough for now. Things here have wrapped up. Things in Michigan have been moving on without me. It’s time to catch up.

Climbing the hill up to the Alhambra, mentally bemoaning the heat, the fact that I knew there had to be an easier path but had listened to street signs instead of my map...and then a pleasing view of the city below

I’ll have things to keep me busy as soon as I get back -- the anniversary of Trevor’s and my first date, the 4th of July at Aunt Jane’s, a quick catching up with a friend who’s about to take off for Virginia for a while, a meet and greet company overview for the job I want, camping with my aunts and uncles and cousins -- and that’s just the first week!

I’m hoping to stay busy enough that I won’t have time to dwell on reverse culture shock (for a gorgeous poem on culture shock, check out this translation of Reina María Rodríguez’s “first time” here), and I think that knowing I’m ready to go back, having things to work towards, will make the transition easier.

‘Stá luego, España. This year has definitely been un pasito pa’delante, and I’m continuing on.

My favorite picture from the Alhambra

Saturday, June 11, 2011

“El gran problema del hombre... que puede soñar como un dios pero que está sujeto a los limites del tiempo y el espacio.” The Borges lecture I attended this week brought back that quote, which one of my Spanish profes would recite at least once each class period: “Man’s greatest problem is that he can dream like a god but is subject to the limits of time and space.”

That particular line speaks to me at the moment, as I’ve got roughly three weeks remaining in Madrid, a little more time and a bit more distance to cover before getting back to Michigan. I’ve still got plans here -- one more week of school, a tour of bodegas around Madrid, a few more days in Andalucía to make it to Córdoba and Granada -- but my Spanish aventuras are definitively winding down. I’ve done what I’ve wanted to, and there’s still more to see were I to come back (which I most likely will). I’m quite content and am now looking forward to what’s next.

For starters, I’ve got an interview when I get back for a job I really want. (No details here because I don’t want to jinx it.)

And as of this past week, I’ve begun a position as an associate editor for the website Watching America. The site translates news about the US from foreign sources so that Americans have access to global perspectives on US policy. My role is to ensure that the translations I review read smoothly in English. My first edit, “Obama Facing the Arab Spring,” from a French source, can be accessed here: The position is unpaid, but will be great experience and practice.

Yesterday a friend and I climbed onto the mirador in the Palacio de Comunicaciones in Cibeles. The coolest thing about it? From the heart of Madrid, you can see where the sprawl of businesses and apartment buildings end and the fields begin and from there all the way out to the mountains. It’s a view of the city I never get as I make my way through Madrid’s streets or beneath them in the metro. I forgot my camera, which is fine, as I hate to live through a lens anyway, would rather keep the picture in my mind where it can remind me that there’s more out there, beyond Madrid, beyond my year here.

It’s almost time for that.

But not quite yet.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Un mes más

Things are wrapping up here in Madrid as I aprovecharme of the little time remaining. I’ll be on my way back to the United States four weeks from last Friday, and is it too clichéd to say that the parting will be bittersweet?

I’m definitely ready to be back, but felt a twinge Thursday when I was reviewing grammar with some of my cuartos, one of them asked when I was going to be leaving.

“July,” I told him.

“You’ll miss Spain,” he said.


“You’ll miss us.”

“Of course.”

“You’ll miss the way we peel paint chips off the walls, stack our desks into fortresses on opposite sides of the room and start a paint chip throwing war.”

“Even that.”

To be fair, that particular habit of theirs only made its appearance once in my stay on a day when the students had convinced their substitute teacher that I should stay with them by myself (which happens to be strictly against the rules of the auxiliar contract but never actually enforced) when I had poked my head into the classroom to drop off some worksheets from the teacher. As I started scolding the guys, the girls tried to talk me into letting it go.

“Están en la edad del pavo (They’re in the turkey age),” they told me. “They can’t help themselves. Leave them be. They’ll finish studying at home. Let’s paint your nails while you tell us about American proms.”

I will even miss 2ºC, the class all of the teachers complain about. Last week the teacher was missing when I got to their class, so I got the class in their seats at least and went on a fruitless search. When I got back to the classroom, the program coordinator was with the students.

“I stopped in to tell them I could hear them all the way in Canada,” she said, which is probably true. “They’re a good group though, aren’t they?”

“Oh, they are,” I said, “One of my favorites. They’re just talkative.”

As the coordinator left, one of the students turned to me. “The teacher hates us,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s really true,” I responded. “She just gets frustrated that you guys talk so much. There’s so many of you, it’s a little overwhelming.”

“We’re just opinionated,” he said. “It’s a good thing.”

An opinionated class, yes. A good thing...not always in their case. Sometimes it just comes off as whiny.

My clases particulares, after school tutoring sessions, are winding down too. I’ve gone from six classes four days a week to two back to back classes on Wednesdays, though the class dynamics have gotten more eventful. Last week I had one girl (who had gotten to class the week before and announced that she’d thrown up three times that day and felt worse than before) sick with pneumonia, one girl who got a bloody nose partway into class and two friends who refused to speak because one had called the other bossy. She is, too, but she did not want to hear it and spent most of the hour sulking behind me.

So I’ve been spending my free time in search of a bit more
tranquilidad as I try to make it to the last of the places on my list of must-sees. Last weekend, I finally made a trip to the Thyssen Museum to check out their permanent collection as well as the Heroínas (Heroines) exhibition, which emphasizes portrayals of active women in art. My friend Sam and I visited the Fundación Caja Madrid where the other half of Heroínas is on display.

This past weekend I visited the Museo de las Americas, which is my new favorite museum in Madrid. The collection begins with a display of excerpts from precolonial Spanish explorers’ letters and writings alongside artists’ renderings of the early American people. It continues into a room exhibiting novelties sent back to Spain from the “New” World, a collection of maps, displays on pre-Colombian lifestyles in the Americas and the changes brought by the colonization. Unintentionally, I visited after having taught my segundos about Columbus’s voyages this past week. (While preparing my presentation, I was corrected by the history teacher. In case you were wondering, the Spanish monarchs didn’t originally reject Columbus’s request for support because they were still warring with the Moors in Granada, but because they were “unifying the peninsula according to religious and cultural traits” by chasing the last of the Moors out of the country. Fine. In class I did manage to remember to say unifying instead of warring, and we quickly moved on.)

After my museum visit, I went to a flamenco show in which one of my American friends debuted. She has been dancing her heart out since she got here in September, throwing her whole self into learning this traditional and complex dance (and blogging a bit: Her show made me wish I had learned flamenco until I remembered my one klutzy attempt back in college and contentedly sat and watched. But the low lighting, the guitar, the clapping, the stomping, the wailing singing drew everyone in. The last dancer of the night was the instructor who at sixty-five or so still stomped at incredible speeds while seducing the spectators with her grace and passion. She showed off the bata de cola, a long train, which she wore while twirling about during the first half and then slid out of, and, I can think of no other word, used to
capotear the way a bullfighter maneuvers his cape to dance the toro to his death. Only this dance wasn’t about death, rather life in all of its magnificence, even as age waltzes on.

Feeling inspired by last night’s exuberance, I went for a run to Plaza de Colón today and made my way back via Paseo de Recoletos, where the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya had set up an outdoor exhibit. Cardio and culture at the same time? Something I will definitely miss when I get back to Michigan.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sevilla with Sam

Since the southern heat in Sevilla (ninety-some degrees while we visited) enforces a leisurely languid pace, I’ll keep this post shorter than most. Enjoy the pictures while imagining yourself seated alongside the Guadalquivir River with a chilled tinto de verano (similar to sangria) in hand looking over at the Plaza de Toros and Torre de Oro about to stroll towards the shaded park beside Spain’s most ornate Plaza de España or into the many tiled rooms and hidden gardens of the Alcazar before making your way into the largest gothic Cathedral in Europe to peer at the resting place of Christopher Columbus. Chat about flamenco and roasted garlic and whether you think you’ve changed in the eight months you’ve been in Spain (or whether you think Spain has simply made apparent who you think you’ve been all along). Make time for a tapas break and follow up with plenty of ice cream. It’s too hot to do much else.

Along the Guadalquivir from the Plaza de Toros to the Torre de Oro.

Torre de Oro up close. Love the purple blossoms.

Horses and carriages line up beside the Cathedral. No, we didn't go for a ride.

Plaza de Espana. The nice thing about an overnight in the heat? Pack two sundresses, and you've got all you need.

Patio garden in the Alcazar

One of many altars in the Cathedral.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

East Coast for Easter

A bit of Spain in Boston welcomes you to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

It seems to me, that in a long distance relationship, the need to talk to your boyfriend (I can only speak for the women here) becomes just as important as talking about your relationship with others dealing with the same separation. Longing to discover the secret to keeping the distance from pulling our pairings apart, we ask questions and tell our stories looking for that key to long distance success or at least the trick to avoiding a bad breakup.

During Fulbright orientation back in September, I was surprised by the number of women who had boyfriends back in the States. A group of us had gone out salsa dancing one night towards the end of that first week. One girl introduced herself and said she was from Connecticut.

“Oh, that’s where my boyfriend grew up,” I responded, which prompted a conversation about our boyfriends and the difficulties of long distance love. When I next saw her in Pamplona two months ago, we caught up a bit, and she filled me in on their breakup.

“And what about you and your boyfriend?” she asked, with a look that seemed to beg for some reassurance that no relationship could survive the time apart. Though I understood the need to see her situation justified by someone else’s, I wasn’t the one who could help. Not this time.

“We’re still together. He was here for a bit in January.”

Then there’s the girl I got to know better in Pamplona who told me another breakup story. She had limited Skype time with her boyfriend to half an hour every week so she could fully immerse herself in Spain and the Spanish language. He decided he was higher maintenance than that. I understand her motivations: I know my Spanish would improve if I were less intent on making room for Trevor time in my life here, yet I also know what I would be giving up in return.

And finally I present the friend whose boyfriend proposed after she found out she got the Fulbright. They’re getting married in July of 2012 for wedding planning purposes, but our group of guapas took her out for a bachelorette party this weekend. Who knows when all of us (from LA, Atlanta, Arizona, Michigan, New York...) will be together again before they tie the knot? Best celebrate while we can.

April has brought much to celebrate, starting with Easter, which I spent in Boston with Trevor and his family. I left straight from Portugal, which meant showing up on Good Friday with a week’s worth of damp laundry that smelled of horse and a pair of boots that customs confiscated to scrub down before letting me leave the Boston airport. We dropped all of that at Trevor’s apartment before meeting a few friends for food. They suggested salsa dancing that night, but after nearly 24 hours of travel while too excited to actually sleep on the planes, I passed out long before that.

Spring in Copley Square

Saturday I got to do laundry, which is exciting because the US believes in dryers, a rare item in Spain. My jeans and T-shirts actually fit for the first time in months and dried within an hour, rather than having to hang out overnight, probably getting caught in an unexpected rain shower and then smelling all mildewy. In the meantime, we got diner breakfast, another delight missing from Spain, where not even Starbucks is open before I'm on my way to work at 8:20 in the morning. Boston was experiencing a rainy Saturday, perfect for an afternoon movie before picking up Indian food to take to Trevor's grandparents' for dinner.

We joined Trevor's extended family -- grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins, small dogs and one giant poodle -- for Easter festivities. The celebrations were just as busy as my family's; you just have to replace a few of our younger children with pets. Food abounded. Trevor and I had made church window cookies the night before to contribute. His cousin Adam, though, brought the most unique dessert: homemade white chocolate candy Lego men in various pastel colors. There was even an Easter egg hunt despite the fact that all of the cousins were in their teens and twenties. I got the most eggs (a word of advice: if everyone rushes to the backyard, start in the front) and grass stains on my knees when things got competitive.

George Washington in the Gardens

The rest of the week passed in an all-too-quick blur of places, people and comfort food. As evidence, I provide a slightly edited email exchange where I try to piece it all together:

Emily Sicard to Trevor

Monday: Au bon pain (jalapeño cheddar bagels and coffee) to Prudential Center (B&N stop to spend some gift cards) followed by Wentworth (Wally's deli for lunch), Princess Bride and dinner of steak and portobello sandwiches with friends

Tuesday: Burton's for brunch with sangria, walking EVERYWHERE (past Fenway, Commons, Gardens, along River...) eventually to North End for Italian at Tecce's and pastries to take back and eat while watching Muriel's Wedding

Wednesday: Western Thought, Panera (another jalapeño cheddar bagel), Duck Tour, splitting a 5 Napkin Burger and Oreo shake for lunch, Copley Square, Commons, Gardens, all the way to IMAX in the Science Museum, lazy delivery pizza for dinner

Thursday: Study day, Chinese for lunch, more studying for you while I go to Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Doyle's for dinner

Friday: Wentworth, sunburned legs, Wally's again for lunch, frozen yogurt before my flight

Trevor Nickerson to Me

Tuesday after Burton's and that morning sangria, we started down Brookline past Fenway 'Park' (referring here to the ballpark - Fenway is that neighborhood so to speak) to the Citgo sign into Kenmore Square, took Commonwealth until we found that spot on the benches in the median. Then we saw the statues before we found the Charles River. We were lying on that dock in the sun for what must've been an hour :)

After that was the first time we hit the Commons when it got cold and almost rainy. The frappuccino didn't help keep my hands warm, haha. The used bookstore we stopped at was in the basement of the Old South Church (or schoolhouse, I can't remember which one) where Sam Adams and several others planned the Boston Tea Party.

And you can't forget Friday! I took you right to Flann's with Jackie, Doc and Adriano. Jimmy sympathized with your jetlag while you fell asleep on me. Could you imagine if we had decided to go salsa dancing!? You're not off the hook, btw.

Driving the Duck Tour Bus/Boat in the Charles

When I look back over all of the things we managed to cram into Trevor’s last week of class before exams (for the most part he spent the week I was in Portugal getting ahead on work so we could have more time together), I appreciate the fact that we could share a week for the first time in months, rather than catching each other up daily on Skype. We could actually have dinner together and people/car watch out the view from the restaurant together, rather than online chatting during mealtimes six hours apart. Mainly I’m thrilled for conversations without Internet cables and the opportunity to meet the friends and family who make up his circle in Boston.

Because after all of the relationship conversations with other Fulbright women, I’m pretty sure no simple formula to long distance success exists, and I’m really not interested in dissecting what Trevor and I have going for us. I’d much rather just enjoy the company.

Sangria with "breakfast"? So Spanish.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lisbon and the Algarve with Alex

Alex and I have been riding together since we were 8 and 9 years old, so it makes sense that almost as soon as I began working on my Fulbright application my junior year, we began planning, or at least talking about the possibility of, a European riding trip. As I waited to hear back last year, I spent downtime online dreaming up trips and came across the UK-based company Far and Ride, which arranges such excursions around the world. Once I got to Spain, we started planning for real.

Because of rumors of Spanish airport worker strikes during Semana Santa (Holy Week/Spring Break), Alex and I decided to meet up in Lisbon rather than Madrid. She got in Thursday night, and I found her the next morning at the Lisbon Lounge Hostel (which I highly recommend if you’re ever in Lisbon). We spent that first day catching up while traversing the entire city, even deciding at one point to cross the River Tagus to visit a small town the woman at the ferry dock recommended to us. Unfortunately, there was nothing of interest on the other side, just a dusty bus station with a cafe behind it. Though the ice cream there was stale and the coffee not great, the woman behind the counter proudly greeted us in English and introduced us to an old man who also spoke a bit of English.

We both loved the buildings in Lisbon.

In that way I found Portugal’s capital to be friendlier than Madrid. Shopkeepers and cafe staff were less standoffish than their Spanish counterparts and all willing to overlook our lack of Portuguese (beyond thank you -- obrigado or obrigada) and eager to assist us.

Tired and not expecting much, we decided to eat at the hostel that night, as they brought in a chef to prepare dinner in the evenings. The meal turned out to be fantastic and filling: a fresh salad to start followed by basic couscous and veggies with a main dish of garlicky delicious piri piri chicken. Add wine and follow with ice cream, and you’ve got a thoroughly satisfying dinner. We got to chat with our roommates for a bit, two Chinese students coming from England and about to leave for Madrid in the morning. They’d been out of the city for the day and we talked them into walking around for a bit after dinner in search of a bar. Apparently they’re all in the Bairro Alto, which we had dismissed as too touristy, but we managed to find a place with tables outside not too far from our hostel.

We took the train to Sintra, a town full of castles, on Saturday after picking up picnic foods at a market. Once we arrived, we bought a bottle of wine, caught a bus up the curving forested hillside and disembarked at the Pena Palace Gardens. We ended up wandering the main path up to the highest point (where Alex’s flipflop broke, and we proudly pieced it back together with the bandaids and a twist-tie we had in our bags) and then winding our way back down on the lesser-traveled paths until we came upon The Queen’s Throne, a seat carved into the rock and tiled over with a view of the fairytale cartoonesque Pena Palace. We paused for our picnic: wine, the best cheese I have eaten yet in Europe, fresh bread, olives, grapes and cherry tomatoes off the vine that tasted like biting straight into summer. By the time we’d made it out of the beautiful gardens, we were exhausted, headed straight back to Lisbon (after a stop to pick up some cheap flip-flops), napped away the early evening and awoke in time to finish our picnic for dinner.

The almost fairytale cartoon-esque Pena Palace

We did a bit of shopping the next day before catching the bus south, which we barely got to on time. We had ordered lunch to take along for the ride, but the cafe took forever putting it together, so we had to rush for the metro with all of our luggage, and once we got off the metro, find the bus station that was supposed to be right there, but was not well marked. By the time we got to our bus and had a little mixup about tickets, I was trying to explain myself to the driver in a mezcla of English and Spanish and “obrigadas.” He held the bus for us, helped us get everything sorted out (remember what I said about the friendly Portuguese?), and we were on our way.

Once at Quinta Paraiso Alto, we met our host, Jinny, and fellow riders, all from the UK. We ate together and went to bed early in anticipation of the start of our ride.

Our horses graze while we picnic

We met our horses after breakfast the next morning. I rode Chuva, an adorable little pinto mixed breed and the newest addition to the ranch. Once everyone had tacked up and gotten on, our guide, Nat, led us out of town, stopping a couple hours in for a picnic lunch. We had been warned that it was tick season in Portugal, and Chuva had picked up a few that had latched on around her tail. The positive thing about the fact that Portuguese ticks are larger than American ticks is that they’re easier to see and thus get rid of! After lunch, despite out of riding shape muscles, we pressed on through cork forests until we arrived at the beautiful Herdade de Beicudo ranch, which would serve as our base for the next two nights. We drove along the cliffside above the beach on our way to dinner in Carrapateira and got out in the wind for a bit to admire the scenery. After a dinner of lamb chops accompanied by vinho verde, Portuguese green wine, and followed by honey madronho, sore muscles begged for sleep.

Herdade de Beicudo

Because of early morning rain we started out later the next morning, giving us time for a leisurely breakfast including our hostess Deborah’s homemade bread. We were bound for a line of windmills where we would meet Nidia to lead us down to the beach and her family’s restaurant in Castelejo. When we got to the beach, we realized we had left too late. The tide had come in and we were forced to lead our mounts across slippery rocks between the cliffs and the waves. Chuva and I reached new levels of trust as I grasped her reins in one hand, leaned on the saddle with the other and we scrambled along the cliffside. Once we landed on the sand, my legs were shaking. Alex described the frightening experience as, “Like missing my flight home fear. No, worse. Like imminent death fear.”

After we crossed the rocks. (All remaining pics are courtesy of David, who got shots in some amazing spots.)

We obviously couldn’t continue along the shoreline to reach the restaurant, so we made for paths that would take us around. A bit farther on, at the base of two hills, the path had washed out, and the horses had to leap it. One of the horses refused, so Nidia dismounted from hers and went over to lead the other across the ditch. Nidia’s horse suddenly realized she was free and took off up the hill to the left, Nidia making impressive time up the slope on foot. Unfortunately, we had to climb the hill to the right. Nat and her trusty pony Henri went in search of Nidia but couldn’t see her anywhere. (It turns out the horse made it all the way home.) Nat rejoined us to make the climb towards the restaurant. As Chuva strained her way up the hill, the cheap fannypack I’d picked up to carry my camera in while riding came unclasped and my camera fell out. Once we’d all made it to the top, I scooched my way back down the hill to retrieve it, but it had broken (which is not the end of the world as it was five years old and had been repaired before). At least I was able to get my memory card back with the pictures from the first few days of our journey.

Up the hill. Doesn't look too bad? It's just the last third.

We tied the horses out front of the restaurant, untacked, gave them water and then enjoyed a comforting meal: ham and clams and beer. When the non-ham eater, non-beer drinker turns to those options, you can tell that she’s had a stressful day and has also been living in Spain for too long. We enjoyed an uneventful ride back to the ranch where Deborah’s husband, Henrique had prepared an excellent paella for the group and shared his homemade madronho with us. After such an intense day, we couldn’t turn it down.

Nat didn’t ride out with us the next day; instead, Joel guided us down to the beach that we’d seen from the cliff tops two days before. It was the first time Chuva had seen actual open beach, and as we came upon it, she became more animated, snorting at the waves. All of us enjoyed a nice “canter” (though Alex and I agree that it was at least a hand-gallop if not full out gallop) along the shore before winding our way up through sand dunes and hills to a picnic in the woods. After lunch, we rode to a small stable where we left the horses for the night. We stayed in a hostel in Aljezur beneath the remains of a tenth century Moorish castle. All of us ate dinner across the street; I enjoyed ham and mushrooms (Two things that Spain has taught me I actually like. Olives are a third.)

Beach riding.

After a rather sleepless night and breakfast of coffee and pastries in a cafe, we went back up the the stables to tack up for the last day. The sun shone warmly, so I decided to leave the rain jacket I’d carried tied about my waist for the entire trip. (At worst we’d been caught in sprinkles while out riding.) Of course as the morning stretched on it began to look more like rain or rather a storm, so instead of stopping for lunch before returning the horses to the ranch, we headed them straight for home. We galloped up a windmill topped hill just before the rain began, and when we reached the summit, I understood how people in the fifteenth century could have thought that Europe’s western coast was the end of the world. Right there, we were on top of the world. Our horses turned their rumps to the driving rain as they picked their way across the ridge. All of the greenery below us moved in the increasing wind and the wind turbines above us whirred while picking up speed. I imagined the waves kicking up on the Atlantic, which was just out of our vision.

You can't quite tell how high up we are in this picture.

Then the romanticism was gone, and the rain was just cold, and my wet breeches were rubbing against the skin on my legs (though my muscles were finally not the least bit sore), I needed a bathroom, and all I wanted was a warm shower and something to eat before I had to leave Alex and continue on my way to Boston.

And so it happened. We got back to Quinta Paraiso Alto, took care of the horses and went out for a celebratory lunch of cod and wild boar, more vinho verde and madronho. I packed my stinky wet clothes, got my shower, and had to leave Alex to go to the airport.

The best part of the whole trip? The mere fact that Alex and I got to travel together after a year of living in different states/countries. There are few people I’d rather find myself in the company of after a ferry boat ride to nowhere or a wet day on horseback. Or better yet, after a magical picnic in view of a castle or a gallop across a sunny beach.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring in the Southern Suburbs of Madrid + Semana Santa Preview

The curious reader may have wondered what I have been doing with myself as of late aside from my duties as an auxiliar. I haven’t been traveling aside from the Fulbright Conference in Pamplona. Instead I’ve been spending my afternoons in the suburbs, specifically Boadilla and Villaviciosa, teaching clases particulares (after-school tutoring). In all, I’m teaching seventeen children four afternoons a week. A typical week goes:

Monday: one hour with four nine year old girls preparing for the Cambridge Flyers exam

Tuesday: one hour with a girl preparing for the Cambridge Preliminary English Test

Wednesday: one hour with four eight year olds reading stories, drawing pictures and playing games

one hour with four six year olds and pictures, games and songs while avoiding the kids' sneezes

another hour with the Cambridge Flyers girls

Friday: one hour with three four year olds singing and drawing

A bit much, you ask? Maybe, but I’ve enjoyed spending extra time outside of the city, especially now that it’s feeling springy. Boadilla and Villaviciosa have some lovely parks, though if I want wireless between school and tutoring, it means hanging out in McDonalds for awhile. On Wednesdays, the longest day, one of the mothers, the Spanish teacher at my school, has been inviting me to lunch beforehand, which is sweet of her. Though our topics of conversation sometimes seem just shy of attacks on US cultural norms (automatic transmissions, air conditioning and Gossip Girl), whose Spanish counterpoints I don’t feel like bringing up (the inconvenience of clotheslines as opposed to dryers, the denial that it actually gets cold during Spanish winters as demonstrated by the lack of heating and any Spanish talk show), it’s nice to spend time with people who have lives more stable than my own and those of my friends.

Staying in Madrid to tutor has also allowed me to save some extra money for my gran viaje during Semana Santa (Holy Week/Spring Break), which begins Friday morning with a flight to Lisbon where I will find Alex, my horse-riding friend of fifteen years or so. We haven’t seen each other in a year, which makes me extra excited for the week we get to spend together. We’ll be in Lisbon until Sunday when we’ll catch a bus down to the Algarve to spend the rest of our trip on horseback. Monday we’ll be setting off through cork forests, almond and olive trees just coming into bloom with a picnic lunch before arriving on the outskirts of a fishing village along the coast. Tuesday we’ll ride along open cliff tops with a gallop along the beach. Wednesday we’ll cross sand dunes, hills and valleys known for sweet potato crops and the remains of a Moorish 10th century castle. Finally, Thursday we will return for a BBQ at the ranch before I set off on the next leg of my journey.

I hadn’t planned this last bit of the trip before getting to Spain; in fact, I hadn’t considered returning to the US at any point during my grant. That has changed (and if you’ve looked at the cost of international flights lately, you’ll understand why I’ve taken on all of the extra tutoring hours). I’ll be in Boston for Easter. If you’re family and reading this, I’m sure you’re asking: Why not Michigan? After all, Easter for us means everyone -- Mom’s side, Dad’s side, neighbors, families from church -- all at my parents’. I’ll miss you all. Boston, though, is where Trevor is with the extended family I haven’t met (though he’s been to one of my family’s Christmas parties and a 4th of July gathering) and his school friends and life (while he’s met all of my friends in Michigan and the majority in Madrid). Despite the amount of time that has passed since we began dating, we’ve spent 1/3 of that time in different countries and slightly less than that fraction in the US but in separate states. It’s my turn to travel, so I’ll be taking off from Portugal for London’s Gatwick where I’ll have to catch a bus to Heathrow (luckily I’ve got an 11 hour layover -- plenty of time for the 3 hour bus ride) to fly into Boston by Friday afternoon. A week there, and it will be back to Madrid for a mere nine weeks with plans to do a bit more traveling before returning to the US.

Though it’s completely the wrong season for this poem, as I take off, I have the last couple lines of Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” stuck in my head: “But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep.” These next two weeks are exactly what I’ve been waiting for. Stories and fotos when I get back to España!