Saturday, May 12, 2007


What are you lookin' at, buster?

El puente

This coming Tuesday, May 15th, is (another) holiday in Madrid, marking the feast day of San Isidro, the patron saint of the city. This give madrileños the opportunity to take advantage, creating a 4-day weekend by taking Monday off ( a large number of people left the city last night, beginning the weekend early). In situations like this, the option of taking Monday off, as a bridge between two existing days off is known as "hacer el puente", or making the bridge. Monday, April 30th, was also a day to "hacer el puente", since doing so in that case resulted in a five-day holiday.

Just thought you might like to know.

The plain people of Ireland: So Tuesday is like a Spanish bank holiday?
The management: More than that. The shops, too, will be closed. Even my beloved Corte Inglés. But there will be fireworks. And Händel's "Water Music".
The plain people of Ireland: "Handel, is it? Did you know that..."
The management: "the Messiah was first performed in Dublin's Fishamble Street?" Yes, I did, actually.
The plain people of Ireland: Funny name, that. Fishamble Street.
The management: Indeed.

Spanish for the traveler

9/11 is referred to as 11-S, or "once-S". This is to distinguish it from 3/11, which is known as 11-M, or "once-M". March 11th is, of course, the date of the bombings in Madrid. So one reads of "los acontecimientos de 11-S" or "de 11-M".

On a brighter note, you may be confused as to when to start to say "buenas noches" instead of "buenas tardes". The answer is, after 20:30. It was refreshing to hear that there is consensus on this - three of three teachers surveyed gave the same answer - unusual, to say the least.

Headphones are known as "auriculares", a word which cracks me up every time, because it reminds me of "bunnicula", the vampire rabbit.

Finally, the way that pilgrims follow to reach Santiago de Compostela, is known as the "camino de Santiago", a phrase which also cracks me up, reminding me as it does of "Carmen Sandiego" of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" fame. Santiago de Compostela, or Sant-Iago, is the same person as Saint Jacob (Iago is the Spanish for Jacob), or Saint James, the brother of John the Evangelist. (Remember that followers of King James were also known as Jacobites). The camino de Santiago is also referred to as the "way of St James" in English. (For this etymology, I am indebted to my good friend, the Reverend Amy A).

The plain people of Ireland: Here! This isn't going to be much use to us in Benidorm.
The management: If you end up in Benidorm, nothing much is going to help you.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A tasty treat

In an earlier post, I had good things to say about "frutas del bosque" flavored ice-cream. The item pictured in this post gives the fruits of the forest a run for their money in the deliciousness stakes. It is a frozen lemon, and consists exactly of what you see in the picture - a scooped out lemon, refilled with delicious lemon ice-cream. The fact that the filling is ice-cream, rather than a sorbet, makes it more delicious, not less.

After I photographed this particular example, I ate it. It was incredibly delicious. Sometimes life is very good indeed.

Chance and circumstance

The scariest thing about quitting my job was figuring out what to do next. I had always been someone who was more or less defined by my professional identity. Work-life balance questions were not an issue for me - my work was my life. Which is to say that I had huge work-life balance issues. Indeed, it was the ongoing inability to find any kind of healthy equilibrium while working that finally convinced me that some sort of drastic action was necessary. I loved my job, and the people I worked with, but the fact of the matter was that my personal life was almost non-existent. It might be tolerable (though not healthy) at age 30, but I was rapidly approaching 50, and it seemed like I was stuck in a rut from which I didn't know how to escape. I knew that the overall pattern of my life was taking a direction which was definitely unhealthy in the long-term, and becoming increasingly less satisfying on a day-to-day basis. I was, and remain, extremely happy about my career accomplishments, particularly those at Genentech, which was an exceptionally fulfilling place to work. From a career point of view, things were very comfortable. But, looking ahead a few years, it was becoming harder and harder to believe that my job would continue to be as rewarding. And there were other parts of my life that needed fixing.

This was becoming increasingly clear to me last summer, and my 50th birthday (in January) was looming on the horizon, like a wakeup call. I knew it was time for a change. Still, it took a good 3 months of internal agonizing before I finally managed to reach the emotional state where I was able to give notice. Funny thing, though, the moment I did so, there was this enormous sense of relief. The die was cast, and now I would be forced to deal with some of the issues I had been postponing for so long.

News of my resignation did not "go public" until the beginning of December, and I planned to leave in early January. By mid-November, I still had no fixed idea of what I would do next - there was no master plan, beyond a few ideas kicking around in my head. For good or ill, this changed quickly, once it became generally known I was about to leave. My colleagues were a bit shocked, but remarkably supportive. However, within a couple of days, it became clear to me that it was no longer acceptable not to have a plan for what to do next. It was the first question that people asked, and mumbling something vague about "learning a language" or " having some time to travel" just wasn't cutting it as an answer.

So this trip to Spain came about. Not so much as part of a long-term dream (though I had really enjoyed my 6-week sabbatical in Seville and Barcelona back in 2003). But because I had to come up with an answer to people's questions about my future plans. The funny (and fun) part was how, once I came up with the initial answer "I'll be spending some time in Spain, taking classes to learn Spanish", that's really all it took. People were satisfied, and - from that single, relatively vague sentence - things took on a life of their own. Because, having told people I would be leaving for Spain, well then, it was up to me to make it happen.

What amazes me still, but in a good way, is how quickly things fell into place after that. Certain obvious questions presented themselves - when, where, and for how long? But now, the answers seemed fairly straightforward. Six months overall seemed like about the right duration - certainly enough time to give me a fighting chance of mastering Spanish. I had some prior knowledge of Spain - had been in Seville, Barcelona, Salamanca already, and in Granada for a day. I knew I wanted to return to Andalucía, wasn't that wild about going back to Barcelona (the city is gorgeous, but I hadn't enjoyed the school, or the unhelpful attitude of the Catalans to those trying to learn Spanish). Obviously, I wanted to see Madrid. Then, one night in early January, I was surfing the net, and found an ad for my current accommodations on Craig's List, and suddenly the right course of action seemed obvious. I would center the trip around a 3-month stay in Madrid, with 3 weeks each in Seville, Granada, and Salamanca. A week later, everything was booked. I managed to surprise even myself with my decisiveness about finalizing things.

So, no great master plan, really. You make one decision, then life presents you with other options to consider. Then, through a confluence of chance and circumstance, you make your choices. Fortunately, I take after my mother, in that, having made a decision, I don't waste time agonizing about whether or not it was the "best" choice. There are no optimal choices in life - the trick is to make your decisions and then devote your time to making things work out for the best.

The plain people of Ireland: Did you never think of some place like, say, Torremolinos or Benidorm? Sure they have some great package deals these days. Ryanair - very cheap. And the people in these places all speak English!
The management: Exactly.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My local pub

my local

la familia en España

I feel a little presumptuous writing on this topic, which Giles Tremlett covers so much better in his book than I could ever hope to here. But I will try to jot down a few impressions, nonetheless. In the (to me slightly less intimidating) bulleted list item format. Please don't expect this to be tied neatly with a bow.

  • Los niños: The Germans have a word called "kinderfeindlich", meaning, literally, "unfriendly to children", or "children-hostile". In my experience, it aptly sums up the attitude of a fairly broad swath of the German population to kids. They are tolerated, but perhaps not entirely welcome, and there is a broad variety of places where you won't see that many children, such as bars, and many restaurants. The idea seems to be that if you want to frequent certain locales, best to get a babysitter, and leave the kids at home. In Spain, the converse is true. Sometimes it seems that children are everywhere, in places where you wouldn't necessarily expect them (bars, for example, and most restaurants, even very fancy ones, crawling happily across tables, around the floor, getting under the waiters' feet). At all hours of the day and night. In Seville, during Semana Santa, whole families were still out walking the streets, complete with two-children strollers, well beyond midnight. After the initial shock, it's a refreshing change of pace, to experience a society where children are not only welcome, but indulged. To a degree that would be considered spoiling them in most other countries I've lived in. True, there is a downside, and sometimes their behavior borders on that of little monsters, but overall, it seems an entirely healthy view of the world. In fact, this is one of the things I like best about Spain - if you go into a bar or restaurant, you won't just encounter people from a very narrow age demographic (obviously, there are exceptions) - in many cases, there will be at least three generations of a family hanging out, eating, drinking, chatting. (The second-hand smoke is a definite downside to this, but clearly doesn't bother the Spaniards - this issue has been raised several times in the classes I've attended, in Seville, Granada, and Madrid - and in all cases, the reaction of the teachers has been one of genuine puzzlement. Leaving the kids at home is just not considered a realistic option, so the second-hand smoke thing is just part of the way things are). But ask yourself - when was the last time you went out to a bar with both your parents and your kids (assuming you have both)? Here in Spain, it's the norm, and I have to think it's a healthy one. Family ties are definitely stronger here than in any other country I'm familiar with, including Ireland.

  • Los adolescentes: As Tremlett points out, one of the central mysteries of Spanish life is, given the level of attention and spoiling that is given to small children, the riddle is why they do not grow into adolescents that are monsters. But the fact is, they don't. Not that kids don't go through a rebellious phase - clearly they do here, just as in other societies. It's just that they are so well-behaved and polite, even at their most rebellious. That said, a few aspects of adolescent culture stand out as being worthy of comment. The first is the rampant abuse of hair gel by males between the ages of about 14 and 20. Even the Gotti boys would find it excessive. The result is that they prowl the streets (politely), looking like nothing so much as so many pimps-in-training. This impression is accentuated by the tendency of their female counterparts to adopt a style of dress which would be right at home on the Calle de la Montera. When I've mentioned this to non-Spanish acquaintances here, the response has been "have you seen how American teenaged girls dress these days?". Well, the answer is that I have, and - in my view - it's nowhere near as extreme as the Spanish tarts-in-training. The overall result is a little disconcerting, because at certains times of the evening, the streets are thronged with these kids who look like streetwalkers accompanied by their pimps, yet who are disarmingly and unfailingly polite. A mystery.

  • The 20-year olds: In general, the sartorial and tonsorial excesses of the teenage years are modulated among this group. Perhaps because they are still living at home with their parents - who knows? Because, chances are that a 27-year old man will still be living at home with his parents. The percentage of 27-year old women doing so is (only slightly) lower, and is still phenomenally high, by American standards. So the great mystery for this group is where they are having sex (because you know that they are), a question to which I certainly don't have an answer. Marriage seems to happen quite a bit later than in other countries, often not until couples are pretty close to 30. The accepted explanation for all of this is the expense of renting or buying an apartment in the larger cities of Spain, but a part of me thinks that that isn't all that's behind it. Certainly, for men in their late twenties, holding down a job, the convenience of being waited on hand and foot by their mothers, and any sisters still living at home, seems likely to be part of the explanation as well.

  • The old: The unquestioned importance attached to family relationships means that the old are far less marginalized here than in other societies, which can only be considered a good thing. I have grumbled elsewhere about their pedestrian behavior, but - joking aside - I have nothing but the greatest respect for these folks. Many of them have been through a lot, yet the way they maintain their zest for life seems entirely admirable to me. At a certain age, a great percentage of Spanish women seem destined to end up looking like Dr Ruth:

My personal theory is that this goes a long way in explaining some of the earlier excesses which one sees in younger women, be it the streetwalking attire of the adolescents, or the undue attention to cosmetics and cosmetic surgery by women in their fifties.

That's it for now. As I said, not tied up with a bow, today.

The plain people of Ireland: Isn't she the sex lady?

The management: Silence, wretches! But yes - you are correct - she is indeed the "sex lady".


Life has been relatively uneventful since Tuesday's excitement, and I, for one, am grateful for that. Though I realize it makes for less entertaining blogging, there's something to be said for the quiet life.

Here are a few freshly-minted Tom Swifties to keep things humming along:

  • "That's definitely a thigh bone", opined Tom ephemerally.
  • "Miss Buchanan appears to be missing", said Tom lackadaisically.
  • "I like to ride in a horse-drawn carriage", said Tom sulkily.
  • "Grab that Irishman!", yelled Tom seismically.
  • "Tonight's special is Chilean seabass", said Tom officiously.
  • "That man over there has really been pigging out at the all-you-can-eat buffet", said Tom effulgently.
  • "Dennis really bores me", said Tom indulgently.
  • "Need anything shredded?", asked Tom fawningly.
  • "Like some paprika with that?", asked Tom ghoulishly.
  • "I've got a little list", said Tom rhapsodically.
  • "What rain?" enquired Tom plainly.
  • "The Irishman is dead", said Tom endemically.
  • "I used to command a battalion of German insects", said Tom exuberantly.
  • "A woodland nymph is dead", said Tom, with a deadpan expression.

And here are some new titles from our favorite "change one letter" series -

Tourney of the Magi:

Jousting for gold, frankincense and myrrh

Mulder on the Orient Express

Lost X-files episode: guest-writer Agatha Christie (and just what was behind her own mysterious disappearance anyway?)

Gödel, Escher, ach!

These damned Teutonic names are a bitch to pronounce.

Harry Potter and the Giblet of Fire

Young wizard is laid low by appendicitis.

A broom of one's own

The truth behind the Bloomsbury coven

A Shropshire LAN

Internet usage in Shrewsbury.

Males of the Alhambra Washington Irving's homoerotic tribute to the jewels of Granada.

Ales of the Alhambra A pub-crawl through Granada

Wales of the Alhambra Stunning new expose traces Prince Charles's conception back to a back-of-the-limousine fling between Elizabeth and a Spanish prizefighter from Granada during HRH's tour of the Alhambra. At last, the ears are explained.

"Bleak Mouse" Stuart Little undergoes an existential crisis.

"Bleak Louse" 'Why did Heathcliff have to be so cheerless all the time and such a bastard, to boot?', wondered Cathy.

"Bleak Horse" Seabiscuit just wasn't himself after that silly croquet accident mused Toby.

"Leak House" Why they just couldn't call it a WC like the frogs did was something that Mr Fields could never understand.

"Charlotte's Wed!" Hubby is a bit of a pig, though.

"The Merry Hives of Windsor" Royal family down on its luck turns to beekeeping. We recommend the royal jelly.

"The Mercy Wives of Windsor" Camilla lay back on the bed, opened her legs as the jug-eared buffoon straddled her, muttering into her ear "I want to be your Tampax, dahling" and thought of the empire.

The plain people of Ireland: Here, here! That last one's a bit dicey, isn't it? We thought this was a family blog.

The management: That's a bit surprising, given the recent emphasis on strumpets, wouldn't you say?

The plain people of Ireland: But some of them other ones are very clever indeed. But what's that one about "Tom said, fawningly"? What's that getting at?

The management: At the risk of dating myself - Iran-Contra, Oliver North, Fawn Hall?

The plain people of Ireland: Ah yes, of course. She was a good-looking piece of fluff, wasn't she? What's it the yanks call it - eye-candy, is that the word?

The management: I'm afraid it is. (groan)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Working Girls (Part 2)

Anyway, after class today, I decided it was time to do a little grocery shopping. I was aware that there was a big supermarket in the basement of El Corte Inglés (source of many of my creature comforts here in Spain - camera, CD player, laptop, to name just a few), but hadn't yet checked it out. This afternoon was my chance.

A cornu-bloody-copia, I tell you. Aisle upon aisle of delectable goodies - produce, baked goods, wine, cheeses from around the world, delicious microwaveable treats, chocolate (¡my God, the chocolate!). I checked my wallet - over 100 € - no worries there.

So maybe I went a little overboard. I hadn't eaten lunch, so there was that psychological thing about shopping while hungry. Plus, there wasn't a whole lot at home. And everything looked so good. Now, I'm not a completely impractical person, so I knew enough to avoid the trolley (American = cart) option, because I was going to have to lug this all the way home - a good seven blocks or so. But - and this was my undoing - in this supermarket, they had these really cute baskets, which came with two handles. One handle is for people who just want to carry the basket in the usual way. But the second handle extends, like the handle on those wheeled suitcases that certain travelers insist on bringing as hand-luggage on planes. So that, at a certain point, you could just wheel your basket around after you. And the basket was deep, capacious, inviting.

So when I found myself at the other side of the cashier's, it was with more inexpertly bagged groceries than I had perhaps intended. Certainly more than was entirely prudent. All right - six, if you must know. Inexpertly bagged, because convenience at El Corte Inglés only goes so far, and you have to take care of the bagging part yourself. But, no matter, all this recent walking has left me fitter than I've been in a long time, and there was no particular rush to get home, so I could take my time. Of course, in addition to the six grocery bags, I had a shoulder bag of books and stuff to manouevre as well.

Off I set, laden like a pack animal, with three bags of booty in either hand, and my shoulder bag draped across my torso somewhat awkwardly. Fortunately, I knew the most direct route home. Somewhat less fortunately, it involved traversing two blocks of the Calle de la Montera. A name which will be familiar to attentive readers of this blog from Friday's post (strumpet city). Now, under normal circumstances, making my way along the tart walk is not a particularly challenging task - brisk pace, forward gaze, avoiding eye contact - there you go. Unfortunately, this afternoon, things proved to be a little more challenging. First of all, those damned bags were heavy, and I was starting to flag. More alarmingly, three of the bags seemed on the verge of imminent rupture, right as I got to the point where traffic was heaviest.

And, of course, that's exactly what happened. Just as I reach ground zero, strumpet central, if you will, two of the bags break, and half of my groceries are scattered across the pavement. At 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, the girls aren't busy, so this is by far the most exciting thing that's going on in the neighborhood. I stand, transfixed, options scampering through my brain like the oranges bouncing around on the sidewalk. Let me tell you, the flight response of just dropping everything and running for the hills was pretty tempting. Though not entirely realistic.

What are Kubler-Ross's five stages? Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. In 20 seconds, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, I went through them all. But no, the sidewalk just would not cooperate by opening up and swallowing me. I hear catcalls. Whistling. Phrases I couldn't even begin to process. Then, next thing I know - God bless 'em - the girls are rallying around to help. Women (I think they were all women) in hot pants and skimpy tops are retrieving my groceries from all over the sidewalk. They just think it's the funniest thing.

And, of course, they´re right. Objectively viewed, it was pretty damned hilarious. And here is what I'm proud of, gentle readers. After about 90 seconds of sheer, absolute, mortification - even I got the joke. And started to laugh. Slightly hysterically. But still.

A few things I learned about hookers this afternoon. They are as touchy-feely as all get out. But they were the ones who helped me put it all back together again, not allowing me to move on until everything was sensibly packed this time, in the four surviving bags. While the more bourgeouis madrileños looked on in unhelping amusement.

So, yes, damn it! This is indeed a "hooker with a heart of gold" story. Common decency forces me to retract every smug word of Sunday's post (hookers don't have hearts of gold) . Because this afternoon, it is the working girls of the Calle de la Montera who saved my butt. This post is dedicated to them.

Working Girls

The last time I can remember being as embarrassed as I was this afternoon was in the spring of 1974. I had just turned 17, and was on a trip to Amsterdam with my family. I had been living in the Netherlands for six months at that stage (vlodrop) and it had been my job to choose and book hotels, and generally make all the arrangements for the trip, so I was a little on edge to begin with. Plus there was that whole 17-year old's embarrassment at being seen in public with one's family thing. Fortunately, everyone else seemed to be having the time of their life, so things were pretty OK, until my mother announced at dinner that, after dinner, she wanted to see the red-light district. En famille.

Horrified silence. Followed by the expected moans of despair from my sister and me. Slightly bemused acquiescence from my father. We all knew that resistance was futile - once Mom had made up her mind, things just went her way.

I'm sure her behavior that evening was entirely gracious, because my mother was one of the most gracious people that walked the earth. But just the concept of wandering through the red-light district, while one's parents pointed at, and commented on, the prostitutes in the windows was almost too much for my adolescent psyche to deal with.

It got worse. We passed by a particularly lurid "sex boutique", with prominent display of toys and much latex in the window, when my mother announced her intention of going in. Jesus! All three of us tried to dissuade her, but she would have none of it. "I'm a doctor, for God's sake - what do you think - that they will kidnap me for the white slave trade. I´m going in, and anyone who stays outside here shivering is a sissy."

Much against our better judgement, we followed her in. Best to keep her in sight at all times. I kept waiting for the bouncer-guy to come over and give me grief, for the obvious crime of bringing my parents to this den of iniquity, and was somewhat aggrieved, when after giving us the once-over, he just gave a big wink. Relative quiet for a minute or so - I'm busy trying to remain as distant as possible from the gay magazine section, and mother is busy leafing through some display copies of assorted skin mags. Dad is looking distinctly uncomfortable, and sister is muttering possible death threats under her breath.

Then came the three minutes that I wanted to erase from memory for the next five years at least. Mother suddenly hunches up uncontrollably in a corner of the store, for all the world as if undergoing some kind of medical emergency. My third year med school sister starts to look nervous. The bouncer comes over to make sure everything's OK. Dad looks totally panicked.
My mom was subject to occasional severe bouts of asthma. We are hundreds of miles from home, in a foreign country. In the red-light district of a foreign country. Hell - in a sleazy sex boutique deep in Europe's most notorious red-light district. Meanwhile, mother is making these choking noises, gasping for breath. Suddenly, I'm a little scared.

The medical emergency? Mother had discovered a magazine for those with specific mammary interests (for some reason, I don't think it was called the obvious "Juggs", but was called something like "Suckulent"). The cover involved a buxom (very buxom) black model doing things with her breasts that one might otherwise have considered an anatomical impossibility, were it not for the lurid photographic documentation of same. This cause my mother to giggle uncontrollably, and the more she tried to stop giggling, the worse it got. We all know how that works.

It took her several minutes to be able to come back to normal. Furthermore (and worst of all, in my book), it was clear she was enjoying herself thoroughly. Because, just when she seemed to be gaining control, she would pick up the magazine, open to another page, point weakly, say "look at this one, Jack", and dissolve all over again. Eventually, the bouncer had to bring her a glass of water to help her regain control. By now, I was actively hoping that we would be thrown out, but no such luck.

In defence of my whiny, self-absorbed 17-year old self - I was 17, for crying out loud. And, I don't think that my embarrassment had all that much to do with the sex angle (let's face it, the fluorescent lit grubbiness of an Amsterdam sex shop is about as erotic as a cauliflower soufflé).

Today's incident really had very little to do with the sex angle either.
(to be continued)

Monday, May 7, 2007

The news from Madrid

It was a glorious day today in Madrid. None of those nasty rain-bearing clouds, just the occasional cirrus-y type wisp. Or maybe fair-weather cumulus. Oh, heck - I know nothing about clouds. Anyway, no hint of lluvia, and bright sparkling sunshine. Of course, being in class for 7 hours cuts down on my time for frolicking in the sunshine. So I have no direct frolicking experiences to report on. Instead, I thought I would fill you in on what madrileños are talking about these days.

Well, first things first:

La Infanta Sofía visita a Orson, el niño de Paz Vega

Before leaving the maternity ward on Friday, the new Infanta, and her family

left to right, Doña Letizia, la Infanta Sofía (3), el Principe (1), la Infanta Leonor (2)

paid a visit to the other royal family in the same ritzy maternity clinic. Yes, the hispanohablante star of "Spanglish", Paz Vega, gave birth (or, as the Spanish put it, "gave to the light") her very own bundle of joy, Orson on Wednesday, following the ever-popular (at least, at the Ruber clinic) Caesarean section.

Paz Vega, the pearl of Andalucia, in the full glow of her imminent maternity. Image has been subjected to special slimming filters.

As you can imagine, this confluence of two royal families in the same clinic was too much for the press to resist. It's as if the Jolie-Pitts had dropped in, newly acquired offspring in tow, to greet the new Cruise clone. Even on the website of the normally staid El País, this story remains one of the most widely read, since its appearance on Friday.

Monday's second big local story concerns the difference between these two metro plans. Can you see what it is?
I will leave discussion of the whole distasteful Dolce and Gabbana brouhaha for another time.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Knowledge for the traveler

This is, of course, a café con leche, an important breakfast standby.

Or, if you are lactose intolerant, here is its cousin, the café solo.

For those who like just a little milk, there's the café cortado, above.

Finally, for those with a very sweet tooth indeed, (or with no teeth left, to speak of), there is this saccharine delight, the café bombón (café con leche condensada). I was first introduced to the café bombón by our somewhat sparse-toothed busdriver on the trip to the mountains last weekend. Fortuituosly, on the same day that I tracked down its correct spelling, I also learned that the correct spelling for those items that cheerleaders deploy

is pompons, and not pompoms, as I had always believed. For this piece of knowledge I am indebted to my good friend the O' Donovan, whose fine blog thedogspajamas I highly recommend.

The O' Donovan is also the source for the following excellent link: disapproving rabbits. You may think that you already have enough disapproval in your life (don't we all?), but these rabbits will make you think again.

Other useful Spanish for travelers:

This fine beer, possibly familiar to some of you from yesterday's cinco de mayo celebrations in the United States, is, of course, not called Corona in Spain, that brandname having already been taken by a popular brand of tobacco. Instead, you must ask for a Coronita.

The plain people of Ireland: Begob, but that's a fine-looking young wan above. You wouldn't happen to know her name, would you?
The management: As it happens, I do.
The plain people of Ireland: And?
The management: And nothing, that's what.
The plain people of Ireland: Yerra go on. We just want to send her a nice respectful e-mail.
The management: I'm sure you do. Tell you what. Since ye're such a dab hand at the googling, why not try doing an image search on "pompons" and see what ye might find out?
The plain people of Ireland: Right you are so. Liam, come over here! How does that google thing work again?
The management: That should keep them occupied for a while.

Finally, the Spanish for Imodium is ... Imodium.

The plain people of Ireland: Imodium, is it? Isn't that the stuff for..
The management: enfermedades del estomago. Yes, indeed.
The plain people of Ireland: Begob, you're not having such a great week, are you?
The management: I assure you, it's getting better by the hour.

And there we must leave things for this evening.

Qué tal?

I tried this post once before, but the ghost of Washington Irving had apparently taken over my brain, with evil results. (While I was sick during the week, I'd been reading "Tales of the Alhambra", in which nobody is old, instead people are "stricken in years", all "damsels" are "buxom", you get the picture). I swear, the phrase "robust quinquagenarian" showed up in the earlier post. Washington Irving will do that to a person. I've since moved on to Dorothy Parker.

Anyway, before coming to Spain, I had worried a little bit, in an abstract kind of way, whether or not being 50 would make it harder to learn a foreign language, or even - God forbid - if there would be certain key aspects that would remain beyond my grasp. You may remember, there was a fairly broadly-publicized study a few years ago, involving functional mRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or whatever the latest flavor of brain scanning was at the time, purporting to show that certain neuronal (neural?) pathways, key to the acquisition of language, were closed off permanently around the age of 8. I'm undoubtedly mangling the details, but the gist of the conclusions was clear enough, that acquisition of a new language becomes progressively more difficult, the older one gets.

So it was a great relief when, a couple of weeks ago, my facility with Spanish took a quantum leap upward. I've had the experience before, with other languages - if reasonably totally immersed, there will come a point, often around the 5- or 6-week mark, where everything "clicks". Things begin to make sense in a way they didn't previously; you start to be able to connect new words to those already in your mind, and - most importantly - you suddenly go from speaking like an 8-year old, to being able to express ideas that are at least approximately what your adult self wanted to say.

The best illustration that this had happened was last Sunday morning, when I found that I was able to maintain a reasonable conversation with the taxi-driver during the entire 25-minute ride from Granada city center to the airport. While starting out on relatively safe, weather-related, ground, we touched on topics such as modern Spanish attitudes toward marriage, morality, and the church (generalized mistrust, because of the perception that the hierarchy was far too hand-in-glove with el Caudillo, to the point of violating the sanctity of the confessional and turning people over to the authorities, according to the driver), corresponding recent changes in Ireland, and differences between both countries in intra-familial relationships, and the role of women.

The details are perhaps not so important - my point is that I was able to hold my own in an adult conversation about topics of general interest. This might seem like small potatoes to my readers. But, let me tell you, after six weeks of classes, six hours a day, you take your victories where you can find them.

I can only hope that my recent virulent head-cold hasn't erased the progress of the previous week. Phlegm is a substance truly best appreciated in its absence.

The INTJ song

Caesar! and Hannibal too!
Peter Jennings, and Phil Donahue
C. Everett Koop and J.F.K.
Yes! You've guessed it - all INTJ's.

It's fun to be-ee an I - N - T - J!
Oh, yes, it's fun to be an I - N - T - J!
You can have high standards
Be all you can be
Because you know you're in good company

Be iconoclastic, like Aykroyd or Chase
Excel like Lance Armstrong, and win every race
Break down barriers like Powell or Ashe
Or just soar like Jane Austen, or Gandalf the Grey

It's fun to be-ee an I - N - T - J!
Oh, yes, it's fun to be an I - N - T - J!
You can have high standards
Be all you can be
Because you know you're in good company

Clarice! but Hannibal too!
So don´t let!
your dark side get the better of you!
Think of Rumsfeld, Giuliani, Professor Mor-i-ar-ty
Best to fight the good fight like Susan B. Anthony

Because it's fun to be an I - N - T - J!
Oh, yes, it's fun to be an I - N - T - J!
You can have high standards
Be all you can be
Because you know you're in good company.