El albergue

El albergue

Friday, February 24, 2012

Every day is a good day

A couple years ago, an amazing older lady from my church back home told me “Every day is a good day.”  That may sound sort of like the delusion of a hopeless optimist, but this woman has gone through a lot in her life, and hearing her say those words made me think about my own attitude towards my life – I was actually ashamed of all the complaints I had recently been making about the minor annoyances that were the only things I had to complain about.  Through the years, those words have stuck with me, floating through my head at regular intervals whenever I feel like complaining.  Whenever I hear her voice playing again in my mind, I am reminded that even though there are bad or simply annoying things that happen to us, there are so many more amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing blessings that God showers down on us – so many that when we take the time to recognize them, there is no way we can continue in any vein of negativity.

So, in the spirit of this wonderful woman’s words, I decided to think back over the past few days and remind myself of just a few of the funny, happy, or precious moments that have made up my week.

1.  On Tuesday, our school celebrated Carnaval, and I got to dress up with some of the second graders as a lion and parade around with the whole class as we showed off our gladiator-themed costumes.  Nothing is more fun than chasing little 7 year-olds around and pretending to eat them.

2.  I don’t remember which day exactly, but earlier this week, one of my little students gave me a drawing that she had made for me.  Above the basket of misshapen flowers were the words “FOUR LAURA.”  So precious.

3.  On Wednesday night, my roommates and I actually pulled out our table and ate dinner around it.  It’s more convenient to leave it in the corner behind the couches and eat with our plates on our laps because we have NO room in our living room, but there is something infinitely more relaxed about eating around a table with warm food, fresh bread, and a glass of wine – it foments lively conversation and strengthen friendships.

4.  On Thursday, when I asked one of my little guys to describe his favorite animal, which happened to be the tiger, his immediate response was “It’s furious!  GRRRR.”  The choice of adjective was hilarious enough on its own, but with the bared teeth and clawing motion of his fingers I almost burst out laughing.

5.  Going home with one of my tutoring students and his family one day, his little two year-old sister finally decided that she liked me enough to hold my hand almost the whole way to the car.  It was so fun galumping along with her baby version of skipping and listening to her tiny voice bubble out of her rosy little lips.

6.  And finally, today I just sat in the sunshine in Plaza de España and read.  Simply delightful.

Truly, every day really really is a good day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oops, my bad!

I mentioned in the previous post that I was lucky enough to get front row seats at the World Bachata Masters, and now that my rundown of the weekend’s activities is over, I’ll tell you a little of this particular side story.

On Thursday evening, I met the organizer of the convention because we had become friends with a few of the American instructors who came over to Madrid for this weekend.  When he found out I spoke Spanish, the very first thing he asked me was if I wanted to be the official translator for the World Bachata Masters.  I told him I had never done anything like that before, but still, he asked.  Finally, after a number of nervous giggles on my part I acceded.  (Why did I accede?  I have no idea.) 

Saturday afternoon, I talked with him again so he could tell me when and where to be, and then nothing else until 11 pm, when the announcer gave me a few sheets of notes in Spanish on what he wanted me to translate.  It ended up being only the beginning remarks talking about the competition as well as the little bios about the different judges, which altogether formed a very small part of the entire proceedings, but the notes were given to me so late that I only had time to pre-translate about half of it.  That first half I had already translated onto the paper went great.  It was pretty much like reading a book aloud, which I love doing.  But once I reached the end of my notes, I was flying by the seat of my pants, translating on the go, which is actually really hard.  Most of it was ok, with a few mistakes and funny sentence constructions as my mind flew to find the best way to say something, but I did make one major gaff that got a number of people laughing. 

As we were introducing the last judge, we got to the end of her bio, in which it said that she was the “pareja” of one of the judges previously introduced.  Now, literally translated, “pareja” means “partner,” but it is also used with decent frequency to mean “significant other.”  So when I saw the word on the page, my first thought went towards the second definition, for some reason not even thinking that it might more likely mean “dance partner.”  As soon as the word “girlfriend” came out of my mouth, the other judge, who happened to be sitting near me, gave me the most emphatic shake of his head, and I had to renege with “I’m sorry, dance partner, my bad!”  Probably not the most formal way to phrase it, but I was on the spot, under pressure, so I reverted to that comfortable colloquial expression from back home…my bad!

Let’s dance

To sum things up in one simple phrase, this weekend has been epic.  Why?  Because, this weekend, the first ever Bachata World Masters and Madrid bachata convention took place in this amazing city I call my home, and my roommate and I attended.  It was three days of danceeatsleepdanceeatsleepdanceeatsleep.  And no, I didn’t suddenly lose my ability to add spaces between words, I purposely wrote it that way in an effort to convey the way in which these past three days have merged together into an unbroken series of dancing, sleeping, and eating, with interludes of running across town between home and the convention.  Seriously, I hardly had time to even check my emails, let alone respond to anything requiring more than a couple short lines. 

It all started on Thursday night, when my roommate got home from a day of bachata workshops to pick me up for the first night of open dancing (I didn’t get home until almost 9 pm because of work and tutoring sessions).  We headed out at half past midnight, dressed and ready to dance the night away.  There were a lot of great leads there who were friendly as well as willing to enjoy themselves despite a little less skill on the part of their follow (ahem, ahem, that might be me). Near the end, the crowd thinned out quite a bit because most people had work the next day, so we ended up dancing a lot with a couple of American friends we had made who came to Madrid just for the festival.  Finally, around 7 am, we got back home, and I was able to fall into bed and sleep.

Friday, it was up at 3 pm to get ready to make it to afternoon two of workshops.  In one, I had to lead because there weren’t enough guys, but it was actually kind of fun learning some of the little things that you need to do in order to tell your follow what you want.  In fact, I think it might have made me a better follow. 

After a short hour and a half at home to eat dinner, change, and relax, we were back on the metro at 11 pm to make to the evening performances showcasing a few amazing professional bachata dancers.  Then it was another amazing night of great dances and new friends.  Actually, it would be more appropriate to say morning of great dancing, since open dancing didn’t start until 1 am and lasted until 6.  Finally, I again fell into bed at 7.

Up and at ‘em at 3 pm on Saturday, we headed back to the hotel where the convention was being held in an attempt to make it to an awesome-sounding workshop called “Bachatango.” I mean, what could be more cool than a fusion of bachata and tango??? Unfortunately, we didn’t make it there until more than halfway through the lesson, but we did get to watch some – it looked so classy, and I loved the music.  My favorite workshop that I attended this day was Ladies’ Styling.  Basically, all the women were together, learning refinements of the basic step as well as fun little moves we could use to spice things up.  I didn’t quite master all of them, but maybe I’ll be more creative on the dance floor now….

After the workshops were over, there was again the race home to eat and change before coming back in time for the World Bachata Masters competition, at which I was lucky enough to get front row seats (see my next post).  There were six professional-level couples competing for the title of World Bachata Champions, and they were all really good, although two in particular really stood out.  The guy sitting next to me said that in comparison with those two couples, the others looked just like his brother and sister dancing together at a friend’s wedding.  I didn’t feel qualified to judge, but I had to admit that I could understand what he was saying.

This time, we didn’t end up leaving the convention until they kicked everyone out at 7:30 am, by which point we were so hungry that my roommate and I decided to go grab some food with a friend.  We had to go to Sol, one of the few spots in Madrid that has some food joints open at all hours due to the plethora of clubs in its vicinity, and it was kind of strange to see this normally bustling hub of the city nearly empty except for the maintenance workers cleaning up the remnants of the night’s festivities.  But we did most thoroughly enjoy our warm, sugar-dusted crepes (Kels had one with white Nutella and I had one with melted chocolate chips and almonds) in the quiet glow of the early morning sunshine. 

At last, it was time to take a nap at 9 am.  Today is officially the last day of the convention, with more workshops that started at 10 am and another night of dancing at a local club, but we obviously missed the workshops, and who knows if we’ll end up going dancing a fourth night in a row.  We do have work tomorrow, after all…

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A walk on the River Manzanares

This past weekend, my roommates and I went on a walk down by the Río Manzanares, which runs through Madrid.  We wanted to get out of the apartment and enjoy a little bit of sunshine, which we did, even though it was pretty darn windy and chilly.  Of course, whenever we passed a fun little play area along the beautifully developed riverside, we couldn't help but let loose the latent child within - what can I was fun!

Friday, February 10, 2012

It’s a Spectator Sport

“Well, folks, it’s been a quiet day here at the San Nicasio metro station since the mad rush of morning commuters went by many hours ago.  Nothing much to see now except the odd teenager striving to impress the girl tenuously attached to his side as they meander across the foyer towards one or the other of the two the boarding platforms.”

“To be honest, Tom, I think the most excitement we’ve had all day was placing bets on which platform that extremely confused newbie commuter was going to decide on.”

“That’s right, Jim.  It really was a toss-up as to which way he was going to go.  The poor guy looked so uncertain as he stared at the metro map on the wall.  Must have been – “

“Wait, Tom!  Looks like we’ve got a little action starting up!  It’s that girl in the bright red coat we saw go down to the left-hand platform just five minutes ago!”

“And now she’s racing back up the escalator and across the foyer, heading straight for the right-hand platform!”

“But the train on that side has already pulled in and come to a full stop!  Is she gonna make it??!!”

“I don’t know – she’s so close!  GO, RED COAT, GO!!!  You’re almost there!”

“Ahh no!  There goes the door buzzer, and she has to pull up just steps away as those doors slide inexorably shut!”

“What a race, Jim!”

“She must have realized as the train pulled up opposite her that she was on the wrong side.”

“That would explain the quick foot work going down those escalator steps.”

“She looked so confident as she went down to the left-hand platform though, it’s kind of hard to believe that she could have made a mistake.”

“These things happen, Jim.  Sometimes, even the best commuters make a wrong turn, simply because they’ve got their minds elsewhere and aren’t paying attention.”

“Well, Tom, just look at her face as she sits down on that bench to wait for the next train – you can tell she won’t be making that mistake again any time soon.”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The clarinet, the clarinet…..

…goes doodely-doodely-doodely-doodely-det.  That’s exactly what was running through my head last night as we lounged around the softly lit little table in the jazz café down the street from our apartment.  I occasionally picked up my glass of white wine to savor its fresh flavor with just a hint of musky overtones, but for the most part, my hands were busy dancing all over to the music, beating out the rhythm on my crossed legs or doing a spastic little air dance more or less close to my body, changing back to whaling away at my legs when I noticed someone looking at me.  Maybe I should have been a little ashamed of my antics, but I was just enjoying the live Dixie jazz so much that I couldn’t contain myself.  There was an array of musicians and instruments, including multiple guitars, paino, tuba (not susaphone), drums, two saxophones, trumpet, and clarinet, every single one of which was played with mastery and toe-tapping musicianship.  The clarinet, though, was by far my favorite, if you couldn’t tell from the first line of the blog – it’s clear tones soared out through the music, with notes and chords trilling out in unmistakable clarity.  And during solo breaks…wow.  It was superb.  There’s really no other word for it.  That clarinet went through its paces, showing itself off to the greatest of advantages.  I only wish I was more versed in the art of instrumental music, because then I would be able to better tell you how great it was. As it is though, I’m stuck with the simple words of an unschooled observer, one who just can’t seem to find all the right words to fully explain just how toe-tappin’, knee-slappin’, head-whirlin’ awesome it was.

In the land of fairytales…and doctors?

Whenever one of my regular classes is out on a field trip, I get to go help out in the preschool with one of the classes of 4 year-olds.  This past week I got to go twice into this land of imagination and fun.  Why would I call it that?  Well, here’s why…

On Tuesday, I underwent numerous medical procedures at the hands of merciless doctors who delighted in giving me a shot every 30 seconds and checking my stomach for a heartbeat.  I helped a concerned mother carefully pull the curtain across the little back alcove so her gigantic baby could have a good night’s sleep in its stroller that never moves for lack of space.  I gladly received a hard-boiled egg from the little cook at the stove, who promptly took it back to first throw in the pot with a little plastic plonk then dump in the shopping cart.  And I was taken on a rapid and giggly journey to the exotic Lake Titicaca (which, even though the name might have you giggling like my little guides, is a real place).

On Wednesday, I had the high privilege of having tea with a beautiful shimmery mermaid, whose winter boots happened to be sticking out the bottom of her rather well-worn tail, and a ferocious pirate, whose outfit looked suspiciously like a racecar driver’s jumpsuit.  I dined on bright fruits and vegetables whose rubbery outsides were covered in the marks of countless little teeth, and which were constantly being stolen away by mischievous little hands.  I was the kind nurse helping an extremely nervous patient lay down on the examining table.  And I helped an intrepid carpenter saw and hammer away at various articles of furniture (with a little bit of real work when one of the little chairs actually did come apart).

So, even though I was hacked and sneezed on by more than one little child not yet schooled in the art of covering one’s mouth, even though I had to physically pull a board game away from a group of boys arguing about where it should be put away, and even though one little guy went around sullenly kicking all the chairs and tables he could, it was still a wonderful trip into the land of make-believe, a land that only the youngest (and most young at heart) can occupy.