30 November 2009

Turkey Day . . . In Spain?

One might ask how Katie Clayton, an American living in Spain, would spend such a classic holiday? Well it actually became a two day celebration. On Thursday, my program had a fancy dinner at a Spanish restaurant called Casa Adolfo. We had croquetas (deep fried cheese and alfredo sauce balls), pisto (veggie ratatouille), ensalada mixta (salad but with strange Spanish things in it like corn and white asparagus), grilled veggies (my fav), and berenjena frita (thinlly sliced, deep fried eggplant). It was delicious and all vegetarian friendly!

In case I haven't told you yet, I became an official vegetarian in Spain. It really hasn't changed my daily eating habits all that much, but whenever I've eaten meat here I just didn't feel good afterword and frankly I don't really like the taste although at first I intended to still eat fish. I even jokingly told my parents that I was the only vegetarian who stopped eating meat because I hated farm animals so much. When I was little my cousins used to throw chickens at me, and I think it caused a general fear and annoyance with farm animals in general. Anyway I was bored one day and wanted to know how not eating meat helped the environment, so somehow I ended up on the PIDA website. Big mistake. I now no longer eat any meat including fish. After 10 minutes of those disgusting videos I was done. So the point of that long tirade was that I'm now a vegetarian so I really appreciated the delicious veggie based appetizers.

Then I had an entree of spinach with raisins and pine nuts, and rice. I mean I like spinach as much as the next girl, but a whole entree of spinach was a bit much. But it was so fun to get to hang out with my fellow students. 

I was a little sad though to not be with my family. It felt so weird to not each sweet potato souffle and pumpkin pie. I was a little homesick (honestly that was the first time). I love you guys, but I've been having so much fun here it really hasn't hit me, especially since I'm coming home fore Christmas. Well I decided the solution to my funk was pumpkin pie. I decided to cook an American Thanksgiving meal for my friends. I researched recipes and met with my friend Jenny to go shopping. About 10 minutes into the shopping trip, my dreams were crushed. Not only was pumpkin no where to be found in the swankiest supermarket in Spain (Corte Ingles) but brown sugar, cream of mushroom soup, vanilla abstract, and turkey were also absent. So my pumpkin pie, sweet potato souffle, green bean casserole, and oven baked turkey were all out the window. We were down to canned green beans and mashed potatoes.

In this moment of despair my friend Jenny stepped up and had a genius idea. Why not a Mexican Thanksgiving? At first I was skeptical but then I remembered my love of spicy food. So we had tacos complete with rice, beans, beef, guacamole, chips and salsa. O yeah and potatoes. My friend Cian is Irish and he had already washed potatoes so he insisted on cooking them. And guess what? It was just as delicious and fun as a traditional meal. 

Cian has a house, which is pretty rare here in Madrid, so we were all able to sit down, which means 7 Americans and 4 of Cian's Spanish roommates all around the table. Although I think the Spaniards thought we were a little crazy when Cian put on "Proud to be an American" and came running through the house using an American flag as a cape. 

After dinner we went around the circle and said what we were thankful for. It was a really great experience, and so much fun. When I was sad about the traditional meal failure in the beginning, Cian reminded me that the fun part is hanging out together, and he was completely right. It was a great way to celebrate even though I missed my family and friends back in the States!

18 November 2009

Lisboa = Love

Sorry it has taken me so long to write about this trip! It has been a busy couple of weeks as I've gotten into my regular routine. I teach english, volunteer with homeless people, have intercambios, occasionally study!! The weeks are great but long.

BUT a few weekends ago I headed to Lisbon for the weekend with a couple of friends. We had a Monday off so we thought we'd explore. We got there at 8am on Saturday morning after a really early plane, and hit the city. As soon as we started walking around I knew I loved the vibe. It's right on the water and there's a really relaxed, beachy feel (complete with palm trees).

In Madrid everyone is so posh and all the streets are so pristine and manicured. In Lisbon, there was peeling paint and cracked tile but there was such a beauty in the brokenness. It is an older city than Madrid, and all the sidewalks are made of cobblestones in black and white patterns.

They even use trolleys!

We headed up to the castle on the highest point in the city. The views were breathtaking even though the actual castle was slightly boring!

Then we headed to the water. You know I can't be near the ocean for more than 2 hours without seeing the water! There were birds everywhere and I hopped over a stone ledge and went out on the rocks to scare them all. I got some cool photographs of them all flying around.

So my friend Izzy (the blonde girl in the picture above) had heard about surfing near Lisbon, so we made a few phone calls and . . . I went SURFING! We took a train for about 30 minutes to this beach town near Lisbon called Cascais. The surf instructor, Alex, told me to call from a pay phone when we got there and he would come pick us up. So I got off the train and I had to go the bathroom really badly. I couldn't find a restroom so I asked the man at the ticket counter who inevitably only spoke Portuguese. With a little bit of luck and my Spanish, I got vague directions to a bathroom. Well I couldn't find said bathroom so I just decided to hold it. We tried to use 2 different pay phones to no avail. A guy from California told us they were designed to steal tourists' money, but somehow I just didn't believe that. I decided to go ask the same man at the ticket counter for a phone. After a few minutes of "telefono no funciona . . . hay un otro?," the man closed the ticket counter and motioned for me to follow him. After a few minutes of waiting and walking he led us to a handicapped bathroom. Not a great day for my communication skills! Somehow I asked for a phone and got a bathroom! We finally got to go to the bathroom and figured out a phone. Next thing I knew I was pulling on a wet suit.

Alex told us in the car that this wasn't the best day for learning because the waves were a little big and unpredictable, but we were determined! So after a few minutes of confusion over my height and width ratio in terms of what wetsuit to wear I was stumbling down the beach with a humungous surfboard. Needless to say, Alex was not lying about the difficulties of the day. I struggled. I had more salt water up my nose and in my lungs than I ever have before. I would get knocked over 3 or 4 times in a row. At one point I got taken under and the lead from my foot to the surfboard got around my neck. I had to take a couple of breaks and never actually got up, but it was such a great experience! I will definitely try surfing again on a calmer day.

The next morning we got up and tried to take a taxi to the botanical gardens before our airplane, but somehow ended up on the highway outside of the city unexpectedly. I made it safely home and with plenty of stories. It was a suprisingly relaxing weekend, and I think that is mostly due to the vibe of Lisbon. It was a great change of pace and I can back refreshed and ready to take on Madrid and my midterms!

05 November 2009


I thought it was about time to share some of the embarrassing things I've said on accident in Spanish. We call those maldichos. They usually happen when the English word sounds really similar to a Spanish word that doesn't mean the same thing. For example, real in Spanish isn't real. Real means royal. So if i said, "Son estos pendientes plata real?" I would be saying are these earrings royal silver, not real silver. That would be a maldicho, although not a very humiliating one. So on with the embarrassing stories!

One night I was out with a group of people from all over the world, French, Spanish, Mexican, American, etc., and this guy named Pedro who lives with one of my friends came up and asked "Que tal?" Essentially that's like what's up in English. So I said, "Estoy buena," which directly translates as "I'm good." BUT this phrase means in Spanish "I'm good looking" or "I have a nice body." I meant to say, "Estoy bien." Needless to say, for the rest of the night anytime Pedro saw me he yelled "Estas buena" (You have a nice body) and laughed. I'm pretty sure my face was permanently red the entire night. 

Do you remember the lady I hitchhiked with Feli? Well Feli took us to the cathedral in her town and there was this statue, a pieta, which is a scene of Mary holding Jesus' dead body in her arms. I asked in Spanish if it was a pieta and she didn't understand me so I tried to explain what a pieta was in Spanish. I said it was where Mary was holding Jesus' body in her armas. Well unfortunately las armas means weapons not arms. Los brazos are arms!! I had asked if that was a statue of Mary holding Jesus in her weapons. Feli's face was priceless. She looked appalled as though I had insulted the Virgin Mary.  Then I emphatically insisted that I had meant brazos. She never really laughed, but I think she was less offended.

Finally earlier on the same trip, I was trying to explain what a scarecrow was. In Spanish, I said, you know it's a thing that looks like a human and stands in a field to prevent los aviones from landing in the farmer's fields. Well aviones are airplanes not birds. Once again the woman's face was utterly confused. Not offended, but certainly confounded. Then I had to flap my arms about and say los pajaros to clarify.

I always tell my roommates that every day in Spain is a little bit of shame, but I always learn from it. Well I'm heading to Lisbon, Portugal on Saturday so I'm sure I will have more to share soon!