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El Primer Pueblo Pitufo del Mundo

1 May

Scattered throughout the hills, its hard not to miss Juzcar

About a year ago, if you mentioned the pueblo of Juzcar, you probably wouldn’t get much of a response. It was just one of many white towns scattered in the hills and mountains of Andalusia. Although beautiful in it’s own right, there was nothing distinct that set the town apart from any of the surrounding villages.

But then something happened. And some very little people made some pretty big changes.

All thanks to one movie: the smurfs.

In honor of the opening of the new movie in Summer of 2011, Juzcar got a bit of a make-over with a thick coat of blue paint.

The official plaque of the first smurf town

No building could escape. From dilapidated houses to the church and from the library to the cemetery, everything became, well, “smurfed.”

And after the paint came the surfs – painted on balconies, poking out from behind walls, and even leaving their footsteps in paint to lead you to the best tea shop in town. (Let’s be honest it’s probably the only tea shop in town. This place is tiny!)

There was no denying the “smurfiness” that Juzcar had achieved and on June 16, 2011 it officially became the “Primer Pueblo Pitufo del Mundo”: the First Smurf Town in the World.

Word of the Day: Pitufo (n.): Smurf, as in: “How many pitufoscan you spot in the following photos?”

The old church with a new makeover


The art of the “English Attack”

20 Apr

Yesterday, I had a moment, as one often does, where you suddenly realize how ridiculous something is.

It all started with a field trip with the 7th graders to Malaga – the heart of the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun). Ironically, it was dreary and rather cold.

Being a big city, Malaga has a lot of foreigners and English-speaking tourists. Much to my surprise, my students were actually eager to speak English and jumped at the chance to shout “Hello!” at nearly every person who looked like (maybe) they spoke English. I assure you, this is every bit as annoying as you can imagine. But this time, something was different.

As I normally find myself on the other end of this elusive “English Attack” (the end that is constantly getting “Hello!” and “Goodmorning!” shouted at my face), I’m ashamed to say I was amused at being in the group of assailants. And low and behold, some of my students were practically begging me to tell them how to say things so they could use them to scream at a blue-eyed, fair-skinned passerby. (Ok, begging might be a bit of an exaggeration. But, they were interested in learning!)

I couldn’t help but enjoy this “English Attack”. The high point coming when one of my students shouted, “Hello. How do you say?” with such excitement, vigor and haste, that she was overcome with laughter as she ran back to tell me her great success. Only there was one problem with this particular example: she had no idea what she was saying.

Lost in the moment, with adrenaline pumping, she realized only later that she didn’t know what that particular question meant. When I told her the meaning, we were both tickled over the occurrence. I, at least, was happy to have drilled something into their heads this year! Now if only I could get them to remember what it means.

Later, on the bus ride home, I had some time to properly reflect on the day’s events. Staring at the passing rows of olive trees, I found myself asking: Why do some Spaniards feel the need to shout at foreigners? Does this only happen in English? What are the necessary components of this “English Attack”?

As a frequent victim, I have decided to put my experiences to some good and outline the important components necessary for any decent “English Attack.” Not only will this serve for future field trips, but it will also allow all those who may never get to experience an “English Attack” to share in this beautiful experience.

The first, and most important, rule of the “English Attack” is that it must only be carried out on complete strangers. It’s not necessary to actually confirm that said stranger speaks English before attacking, either. You can normally just make a guess based on any combination of height, eye color, dress, hair style, skin color, etc. A guiri shouldn’t be too hard for you spot, but it will get easier with practice.

The second rule is that this attack must be fast and unpredicted. You’re not trying to make friends here. Shout the few English words that remain somewhere buried deep in the back of your brain. Remember, you most likely wouldn’t be able to respond or hold a conversation even if these people did respond to you. So get in, get out, and move on chuckling at your cleverness.

Finally, the third rule – and this is normally pretty key – is that you should probably say something wrong, or at the very least mispronounce it. Whether you’re shouting “how do you say?” instead of “how do you do?”, or yelling “goodmorning” at 6 p.m., it’s all just part of the effect. It only makes the “English Attack” stronger.

There are some cases, when the English attacking is so good that it elicits a response from the victim. Whether it be a “hello” in return or just simple acknowledgement, these cases are usually best dealt with by some form of follow up. You’ve already got their attention, so now its time to really get them going. Why not throw in a bad word or a profanity? But remember, this is only in extreme cases.

Thus concludes the most important rules of the “English Attack”. I can only assume that the following month and half that remain of my time in Spain will allow me to conduct further research. In the event of a new discovery, I will be sure to come back and amend the rules.

Today’s Word(s): “Cómo se dice…?”: “How do you say…?”, as in: “The tourist didn’t know how to react when the young girl looked at him and shouted, ‘Comó se dice?'”

Seafood and Canis and Beaches, Oh my!

6 Nov

The elusive puente, (for those of you who have never gotten the pleasure of experiencing it for yourself) occurs when the Spanish working citizens decide to “bridge” the gap that occurs between a random holiday and the weekend.

Take for example All Saints Day (November 1st) which fell this year on a Tuesday. Now what fun would it be to go to work on Monday just to have the next day off? Why not take off Monday as well? Personally, I could just go for all week, but that would be more like the Golden Gate Bridge then I suppose.

So this most recent puente was stretched for two days, making a total of a four-day long weekend. (Five if you’re a lucky auxiliar who doesn’t have to work on Fridays).

So for this puente I found myself along the southern beaches of Spain, where several key lessons were learned:

1. When they call you a d***, they really mean friend. No, seriously – they do! Slang is all relative, I suppose. Where I’m living it’s “tio” (uncle) if your chatting with a friend. In Mexico its “wey” (man). And in the southern region of Cadiz, it’s a not-appropriate-for-this-blog word referring to something only men have. And we’re not talking about mustaches, if you get what I’m saying. Although it may be a little shocking at first when overhearing passing conversations, it’s really not meant to be offensive.

2. Always get gas before the light comes on. Especially if your driving along curvy 2-lane roads at midnight and all the gas stations are closed. Such situations may require you to stop and ask directions and then spend the next nerve-wreking 15-20 minutes heading back in the direction you came from hoping to find the one gas station that “may be open.” (it was!)

3. Jersey extends farther than the shore. And all the way to Spain. But here the word “guido” can be substituted with the spanish word “cani” and “blow-out” for “feaux-hawk”. Although we did have a lovely time drinking down on the docks of Barbate while the Cani’s kindly supplied their rave-like beats from the back of their suped-up rides. Yes, I can assure that the experience was even weirder than it sounds.

4. When by the sea, go for the seafood. There’s enough variety to please even the most finicky palate. From deep fried shrimp tortillas and calamari to roasted tuna and swordfish, you really can’t go wrong with seafood near the coast.

Today’s Word: puente (n.): bridge/extended-weekend; as in “No matter how you look at it, puentes were meant for traveling.”

When Two Worlds Collide

27 Sep

As I sit in one of the only two hostels of Lucena (my new home for the year), it’s hard to imagine that just 24 hours ago I was fighting through the crowds of people in Manhattan’s Penn Station. Talk about culture shock! Try going from the high-rises and propetual motion of New York City – population 8,000,000 – to the quiet streets and tranquil plazas of Lucena, Spain – population 40,000. Not to mention changing languages and time zones.

My tour guide and I in Times Square

But first the beginning: the big apple. After making it to 16 countries in 23 years, I figured now was as good a time as any to jump into the craziness that is New York City. Was I prepared for what I was about to see? Probably not. But thanks to the 25 cent guide book courtesy of Grandpa Bob, I arrived to the city sounding like I knew what I was talking about. But truly it was my awesome tour guide, Michelle, that got me from Subway A to Subway B and taught me the correct pronunciation of “Houston”. After only a short weekend in the city we managed to cram in Times Square, the Eiffel Tower, Central Park, NYU, Chinatown, Brooklyn, Little Italy, Rockefeller Center, The New York Public Library and so much more.

The question of the trip: Could I ever see myself living in NYC? Truth is, I was more concerned with whether I could live in Lucena, Spain!

Lucky for me, a mere taxi ride, 2 flights, 2 trains, 2 buses, 6 time zones and 24 hours later, I was able to get a better handle on that question as I arrived in Lucena. Luckily, I was greeted at the bus stop by another auxiliar, Anna, and headed to the hostel. The quiet of the small streets was almost eerie compared to the chaos of the ones I had come from. But sometimes contrast is good. After a stroll around the town and a Coca-Cola Light in the lively main square, I think the answer is yes… to both.

I would love to live one day in a big city like New York, but for now I’m pretty content on settling into small town España. Apartment searching and school visits to come in the morning!

Today’s Word: el piso (n.): apartment; as in: “If I don’t find a piso quickly, I’m going to be sleeping in the park.”

The 50lb. Weight Game

26 Sep

We’ve all been there. Eyes closed, nervously praying to the gods of lost weight and shrinking size as we heave our suitcases onto the front desk scale of the airport. Maybe if I wish hard enough my suitcase will have magically lost 4lbs between the scales at home and the airport gates. Or maybe I can just pull a fast “look over there” so the attendant doesn’t realize I slipped in those two new dresses at the last second? Or maybe I could start crying? “P-P-PLEASE don’t make me take out that extra pair of shoes lady or I might just…”

Wait. You haven’t been there? You’re saying you actually make sure your suitcases are right before you leave home? That’s ridiculous!

As someone who has spent my fair share of times packing for a long trip, I’m usually pretty proud of being able to fit my things all into one bag. (I’m gone til June, after all!) but that weight limit bologna gets me every time! Should I really be punished for being such a skilled packer?

Alas, this trip to New York proved to be no different nor the scales of the Dayton airport any kinder. As I found myself – suitcase open – trying to lose four pounds by throwing out replaceable things (Who needs socks anyways?) and shoving the rest of the stuff into my carry-on bags. Apparently it doesn’t matter if your bag weighs a thousand pounds as long as you’re the one lugging it around! (and of course it doesn’t contain sharp objects, large bottles of liquids, plants from foreign countries, live animals or plots to take over the world!)

In the end my bag came in at a solid 50lbs and was free to travel another day. You almost won this time AirTran heavy baggage fee, but not on my watch! Perhaps I would save money on the chiropractor had I only paid the overage fee.

Today’s word: la espalda (n.): back; as in “my espalda is killing me after lugging all that extra weight in my carry-on!”


21 Sep

Contrary to what it may have seemed from my last post, I am (unfortunately) not still wandering around fairytale castles in Germany. Nor did I fall off the face of the Earth — just the face of Europe — after which I landed nicely in the vicinity of Cincinnati, Ohio.

After what seems like one of the shortest and most fast-paced summer of my life, I find myself sitting next to an empty suitcase once again. How could it be possibly that my closet has gotten bigger, while my suitcase has shrunk?

But I’ve got bigger worries than suitcase shrinkage. I find myself with less than a week before I’m on a plane heading to Malaga, Spain – a large costal city that is only about an hour from my new home of Lucena. And to think I’m going to squeeze a little trip to NYC in between then and now. Oh, life.

Today’s word: maleta (n.): suitcase; as in: “I would rather throw my maleta out the window than pack it.


Dachau Concentration Camp

27 Jun

As we walked up the gravel path – past the guard towers and to the gate – a strange feeling washed over me. Was it sadness? anger? pity? You could sense that the place had a troubled history. 

We passed through the black iron doors, like so many “prisoners” had done years past. And there above us, in the black wrought-iron door, read the infamous lie:

“Work will set you free.”

There we were. Inside the former concentration camp of Dachau. 

About 25 minutes outside of Munich, tucked on the outskirts of a little town by the same name, Dachau provided the ideal spot for Hitler’s first concentration camp. It was close enough to Munich, which was the headquarters of the Third Reich, and it was also in a small village, where the townspeople either turned a blind eye or were too scared to ask questions. 

Dachau’s history is long and complicated, beginning in 1933 when it was taken over by the SS with the purpose of housing political prisoners. It quickly turned into the first concentration camp and served as the model for other camps, such as aushwitgz. 

The former entry building and shower house is now a museum,  complete with artifacts, pictures, first-hand accounts and video from the past. Winding through the building, you pass through a timeline of events, from the rise of the SS and the creation of the camp all the way through to its liberation in 1945. 

Then passing outside the museum, you enter the role call area, where “prisoners” were forced to stand for hours in lines. 

From there, you can see recreations of two of the housing units – all of which had been destroyed after the war. The most shocking fact was not the small space, but the fact that the windows in the bunk house were thrown open during the cold winter months and nailed shut during the smoldering summers. As the camp became extremely overcrowded and disease spread quickly, I can’t even imagine what the living conditions were like. 

Overall, I was shocked at the size of the camp. It was much smaller than I had imagined, especially because it was home to more than 200,000 prisoners during the time it was in operation. (official records note that more than 30,000 died while in the camp and another 10,000 at it’s sub-camps)

Then, tucked in the back corner of the camp was a place that few were allowed to visit: the crematorium and gas chambers, both original to the camp. 

Although Dachau never used the gas chamber for mass murder, a massive amount of “prisoners” died from other causes – guns, exhaustion, disease, malnutrition – to name a few. 

When the camp was liberated in 1945, American soldiers found the crematorium packed full of bodies.  There were too many to get rid of. 

I can only describe the accounts from the soldiers, along with the pictures and facts as powerful reminders of the past. But they give us hope that nothing of the such will happen again.