Month: October 2012

Currently

I’m a sucker for Currently posts. You know, where the writer lists what he/she is doing currently. I’m also pretty nosy. Are those two related? Couldn’t be.

Here’s what I’ve been up to … currently, I’m:

  • Watching: Homeland and Dexter. If you’re not watching these shows, you’re either busy, ignorant, or just plain weird. My favorite of the two is Homeland, which captivated me from the very first episode, but this season of Dexter is helping to wash away the bad memories from seasons five and six, which I found to be subpar (for Dexter, anyway). These two shows are both from Showtime, and I would like to offer them my sincere gratitude, in the form of wine, cheese, or both (my favorite things, you know). Dear Showtime, you make my lazy Friday/Saturday nights on the couch with my husband so much more fun.

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  • Reading: I just finished reading Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. If you haven’t heard about it—well, where have you been? I had heard a lot of hype—that I’d read it in two days, that I’d love it, that it was “amazing” … So of course I was prepared not to like it, as is my wont when someone promises that I will. The premise is this: it’s Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary; she disappears. It looks bad for Nick. But there’s something else behind all the seemingly obvious signs of a struggle. I won’t spoil it for you. Read it, but I won’t lie: it wasn’t my favorite. I’m a fan of relatable protagonists, and neither main character was anywhere near likable. (Come on, I relate to Dexter! I’m not that hard of a sell.) By the end of the book, I just wanted both of them, Amy and Nick, to go away and be miserable together.
  • Thinking about: A trip to Munich in December. Mario once lived in Munich (if only for a year!), and Germany has been somewhere I’ve seen in pictures but never visited. I would love to visit a traditional German Christmas market, even if it means bundling up in six or seven layers to withstand the cold.

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  • Loving: Our apartment! Mario picked it out while I was back in the States this August, and he did an amazing job. We’re not centrally located, but we’re still within the M-30, and we live right next to two great places for running: a park and Madrid Río. It’s very cozy, has lots of light, and we just got a new rug from IKEA, which, for some odd reason, just makes the room.
  • Listening to: Joshua Radin’s Vegetable Car (and all the rest of his album Simple Times), Mumford & Sons’ The Cave, and This Side by Nickel Creek, just to name a few.
  • Making me happy: Seeing all the Halloween decorations in the stores! I know it’s an Americanization and all, but I love Halloween. I love fall and crisp weather and autumn leaves and pumpkins and the smell of cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice and everything to do with the month of October.

What have you been up to currently?

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On the Road to Salamanca

The bus rumbled along the highway, dusk quickly approaching. We sat side by side, our fingers curled together, leaving the day behind us. Weary but content, we sat in silence, the silence of two people who have everything to say to each other, but not necessarily at that moment. It had been a long day: up early to catch a morning bus, a long walk around town as they wind bit at our cheeks and hands, a hearty lunch, and all of the things that go along with meeting someone, someone special, for the very first time. By that point, I was exhausted but we glanced at each other and smiled with a sigh.

The evening sun tinged the horizon amaranth, gold, and orange. I grasped his hand, searching for the words I wanted, needed, to say to him. I hadn’t picked out a special place or time to say them, hadn’t analyzed my feelings, hadn’t thought about his reaction. I only knew that I loved him. And so I told him—there, in the bus, speeding along the A-66 towards Salamanca: “Te quiero.”

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I didn’t start learning Spanish for love. I did it out of curiosity, because I needed a language to complete my high-school degree, because it was what was expected of me. But I mastered it for other reasons: it challenged me, it made me think about the world differently, it allowed me to see into the soul of another nation, of another people. I mastered it in the end because of Mario, because for him I stayed here, because for him I made my second home in Spain, because for him I packed up my whole life and changed it forever when I told him, standing in front of our friends and family in a church built in the 13th century, right in the heart of Zamora: “Sí, quiero.”

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Yes, I do.  I do promise to love you, to be there for you, to remember the important things for you. For you I will overcome the frustration that I sometimes feel when I can’t think of the right word, when I can’t remember the proper phrasing. Yes, I do.

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My motivation for learning Spanish has varied over the years, but my one constant has been love. Some may consider it cliché to say that love makes you do crazy things, and it is, a bit. But love can also make you do daring things, things you would never have had the chance to do had you not bitten the bullet, got right back on the horse after it threw you off, and said to life and learning, “Sí, quiero.”

On the day we were married, the priest—a friend of Mario’s—talked to us and all our guests about love. Moving to another country for someone? he said with an intensity shining in his dark-brown eyes. That’s love. That’s love, friends.

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Learning a language is frustrating. The first part is enthralling, when you learn by leaps and bounds, huge gulps of knowledge. But then comes the slow part, when you feel as though you’re dreaming about running, desperately trying to move your legs faster, but you just can’t. It’s a slow slog; it can seem fruitless. I know this feeling all too well. I still struggle with fast speech and gender; I still slip up almost every time I open my mouth. But with Mario there, and his family alongside him, I see the purpose. Without him—without them—I’d haven given up already.

Here’s to learning a language for love, whether it be love for a significant other, for a husband or a wife, for the little English-learning children who attend your local elementary schools, for a fellow church member, for the person who lives down your street. Learn a language for a love, and learn it for a lifetime.

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This entry is a part of Kaplan’s Inspire Language Learning Blogger Competition. I’m not that interested in winning a Macbook, but I am interested in sharing my story. After October 29, you’ll be able to vote for me on their Facebook page if you so choose. Thanks, readers.

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Also, please visit Vaya Madrid—I’ve just had my first article published: Tales of a Transplant.

Grammar “Mistakes” Spaniards Make

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What? Mario makes mistakes?

We all make mistakes from time to time. For example, do you know how to properly use lay and lie? It’s confusing because lay is the past tense of lay and laid is the past tense of laid. Confused yet? Most people do it “wrong,” and I put wrong in quotation marks because I don’t believe in labeling a person’s way of speaking as wrong or right. Dialects and pidgins aren’t wrong, and grammar snobs are just that: snobs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love speaking well and even learning about grammar, but since I got a bit more educated, I’ve tried to stop being annoying about “correct” and “incorrect” grammar. (Related: hypercorrection and prescriptive poppycock.)

In Spanish, I am always on the hunt for unknown-to-me phrases/words as well as mistakes. Sometimes I find what I think is a mistake in the newspaper, but I’m not sure whether it actually is. So I ask—who else?—Mario. He almost always knows, but sometimes I mistake a find stumps him. This usually means it’s an error that’s become ingrained in people’s daily speech. I find these linguistics quirks fascinating. So if you do too, please read on to see if you’ve heard these “mistakes” when speaking to Spaniards or reading in Spanish.

Mario would like to note that he helped me with this, and so if you’re a Spaniard reading this, I’m not saying you speak “wrong” in any way, just that I find linguistic curiosities fascinating.

  • “Dile a mis padres” / “Le dije [a Sergio y Víctor] que …”—I love this one. Mario does it all the time. But so does everyone else I know: Mario’s family and friends, teachers I work with, and people on the street. It’s technically wrong; it should be “Diles a mis padres” and “Les dije [a Sergio y Víctor] que …” but it’s usually said like I wrote above. Listen for this one!
  • “Nada de esto hubiera sucedido si él no hubiera hecho lo que hizo.”—This one too is quite common. Of course, the correct way to say it is “Nada de esto habría sucedido si él no hubiera hecho lo que hizo.” It’s said both ways. I’m not sure if there’s a difference in connotation or if it’s simply a way of expressing oneself in a different way.
  • “Fijaros bien” / “Estaros quietos”—I hear the vosotros form a lot, as I work in classrooms where the teachers are always addressing groups of children, so I get the chance to listen and see if they say “fijaros” instead of the correct form “fijaos” or “estaros” instead of the correct form “estaos.” I suppose this comes about because “fijaos” and “estaos” sound a bit odd and are a bit more difficult to pronounce, but I’m no expert.
  • “Hablastes con ella?”—This definitely isn’t as widespread as the above-mentioned examples, but it does happen, although I think people are more aware of the fact that it’s an error. It should, of course, be “¿Hablaste con ella?” The Cervantes Virtual Center speaks of this, citing as a grave error that has even begun to invade the written word. (Oh the horror!) I do love that they call it a “vulgarismo,” a vulgarism.
  • “Sal para fuera” “Sube arriba” / “Baja abajo—These are not errors in such, but rather redundancies. Of course, in English there are many examples of this phenomenon: “free gift,” “end result,” “future plans,” and “safe haven,” just to name a few. We’re taught in composition classes to eliminate redundancies in order to smarten up our writing.

I tried my best not to include obvious ones that most educated people know are incorrect, like the confusion of “b” and “v,” “laísmo” (even though “leísmo” is accepted), saying “habían” when it should be “había,” etc.

Have you noticed any other “mistakes” that native speakers make?

My Favorite Autumnal Spanish Foods

Eating fruits and vegetables in season is the best way to eat. What’s better than a summer tomato, vermillion red, seeds spilling out as you bite into it, salty and tasting of the earth? What’s more delicious than asparagus in March, seasoned with grainy sea salt and fruited olive oil, roasted to the perfect point between crunchy and soft? Nothing. Nothing.

To eat is to experience. To experience is to understand. To understand is to know. To know another culture, to understand the land and its cultivation, eat. Stop by a fruit stand and buy the pomegranate, eat it its crimson seeds, bite into them lightly, let their juice burst out, filling your mouth with its sweet fragrance.

It’s autumn. There are so many good foods in season this time of year, rich and hearty and filling. These foods are on full display on the frutería stands I pass by daily. Sometimes I stop to watch as the people flood in and out, asking for giant purple grapes, seeds still intact, or kilo after kilo of grubby golden apples. It’s time to eat … but which foods are in season where I am?

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  • Pomegranates—The pomegranate, a native of Persia, has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for several millennia. The city of Granada in southern Spain was named after this luscious fruit. It is a true fall and winter fruit, in season from September to February. I like to eat it plain or in salads, although these recipes sounds delicious.

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  • Persimmons—The first time I had a persimmon was in a classic Indiana dish, persimmon pudding. But I had my first plain persimmon here in Spain, thanks to my husband. He introduced the fruit to me, calling it a “caqui.” To me, the persimmon tastes of dates and plums. (Be sure to know which type of persimmon you purchase, because there are astringent and non-astringent varieties!)

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  • Autumn Squash—Squash and pumpkins alike are referred to as “calabazas” here, so when you ask for a “calabaza,” there are several things you could possibly be given. I like to eat all kinds of squash, but most especially acorn and butternut, the two varieties most easily found here. If you roast them in the oven, they have a sweet taste, but not overly so, and go well into dishes like pureed soups, pizzas, or paired with meat.

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  • Greens—Greens get a bad rap. Done right, they can be nutty and flavor rich. Done poorly, they can be limp and tasteless. It’s next to impossible to find kale in Spain, but you can find spinach and chard. As for chard, the leaves are green, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find the colored steams, which brighten up my day anyway! Besides being delicious, these babies are packed with health: vitamins A, K, and C, along with minerals, fiber, and even protein. Bet you didn’t think you could get protein from greens! This spinach-salad recipe looks divine.

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  • Chestnuts—In Salamanca, you knew the cold was here to stay when the chestnut vendors set up their stands on the streets. There is nothing like winding your way through the crowds at 7 p.m., the sun set long ago, teeth-chatteringly cold … and then buying a paper cone of chestnuts, warm and comforting as you walk the rest of the way home. Chestnuts can also be eaten in other ways, of course: stuffings, risottos with butternut squash, decadent pasta, and, of course, dessert. In Spain, a popular way to eat it is a purée.

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  • Quince—Ah, membrillo. For me, it is impossible to refer to this fruit as a quince, a word I learned after I’d learned the Spanish word for it, a word that doesn’t roll off my tongue quite like membrillo, especially when preceded by “dulce de.” The quince is an odd-looking fruit, misshapen almost, but please know that looks, in this case at least, are utterly deceiving. The quince is not one that can be eaten right away due to it being hard and having a rather astringent flavor. However, my mother-in-law makes a delicious treat known as “dulce de membrillo,” a quince paste, that is divine when paired with manchego cheese. In my old high school in Zamora, the teachers placed quinces in certain offices, hoping their sweet smell would penetrate the building.

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  • Apples—Apples. They’re not anything new or overly enthralling, but apples are one of my favorite foods. Unlike many in Spain, I don’t like peeling it. I prefer washing it and eating as is. Apples are probably one of the most (if not the most) cultivated fruits and have their place in history. (Just think of the Garden of Eden—and that’s just the beginning!) I love apples in crisps especially, with the browned butter, slightly crunchy oatmeal and brown sugar, and cooling vanilla ice cream set on top. But don’t forget! Apples aren’t just for sweet recipes. They are delicious in soups, turnovers, salads, stuffings, and sandwiches.

So, readers, what about you? What is good to eat where you live in autumn?