March 23, 2011

Sevilla started off with a six hour overnight bus ride.   Two women in front of us, yapping and enjoying each other’s company, as is their right, as is their right.  But dag: hay que dormir, chicas.

We arrived to Sevilla’s bus station. Bus stations all over the world are melting pots of unusual.   There was a woman, maybe sixty-five, and a man, maybe thirty, who looked to be romantically involved.  They were whispering into each other’s ears and doing an odd mutual neck caress.  You can’t hate: the heart always has its reasons.

Then there was this guy who was wearing a four piece suit, but with sweatpants.   He was a trendsetter, a smoker, maybe fifty-two, also owner of earth’s most violent cough.  Tough dude: the cough would kill any weaker man instantly and the sweatpants you have to repect when accompanied by a four-piece.  Sweater vest, tie, Brooks Brothers jacket, smooth blue button-down, cuff links, and sweatpants from Russell Sporting goods.

He was friends with another guy who would just yell.  Not curses, not prayers, just loud and primal noise from the gut.

We left the station thinking our trip was already good enough.  But Sevilla surpassed all expectation.  It was infused with the splendor of good temperature and striking architecture.

One night we walked through a couple plazas that had hordes of people drinking sangria.  Am impromptu party outside, but the best kind of party: when you only know only one person and you can enjoy the feel of the crowd without interacting with it.  B and I toasted our good fortune, and I began coughing and screaming as a testament to my old friends.

Recommendation: go there.  It’s a tourist spot but don’t hate: you’re a tourist too.  Financially, it’s easy to do cheap.   Just get gritty and take the bus.   Don’t stay in a pricey hotel but do stay in the center. Lots of good restaurants and a giant Starbucks where you can hide and sleep if you didn’t on the overnight bus ride.

My highest recommendation outside of the bus station is Plaza de Espana: it’s half-park, half-castle.  It reminded me of that scene in Aladdin when the Genie advised our hero to ‘beeee yourself’ when they were on top of Jasmine’s castle.



The Class

March 17, 2011

Heard from a good friend today about some students I used to teach.  Some are doing well, some are falling off, the usual trajectories for 13-14 year olds.   Working with adults is fun and challenging out here, but teenagers are a subset of humanity that can drive you mad with joy or rage.  I briefly forgot that.  As a teacher:

You identify with students.  A girl in New York used to read Harry Potter when she was bored during my classes.  Close friends and family know that this was a painful dilemma for me.   What really is more important, I thought, factoring binomials or allowing a child to experience Ron Weasley’s wit?  My ego was bruised that x2 – 9x + 14 being equivalent to (x – 7)(x – 2) wasn’t enough, but you know, I understand.  The last sections of Goblet of Fire are incredible.  Do I suppress her imagination or allow her to openly disrespect me?

You get angry with students.  A lesson went wrong or you’re behind on grading or you just feel off.  Irritable. One of the all-time great kids once brought drum sticks into my algebra class.  Unstimulated by our class discussion about example 42 on page 321, he started playing a mean solo in the back row. We’re talking about multi-step linear equations and he’s freaking out with these sticks.

Knock it off, please, I said. Ok, he said.  He’s a kind young man, generous in heart and spirit, but no kid worth anything can resist making a teacher fall into the abyss of insanity.  Five minutes later we’re on example 44 and I hear those drum sticks again, this time with whispering vocals.

Knock it off or I’m going to break those off my kneecap and throw them out the window.   As I said this, a blood vessel popped in forehead, or at least it felt that way.

Ok Mr. G, ok.

You respect the students.  There’s this one girl in Chicago who we called ‘Ice.’  A total killer in the classroom.  Worked hard, was always prepared, rarely showed emotion. Type of student that was so good you didn’t quite feel worthy- like your lessons were not commensurate with her character and intelligence.  I still speak with her through email, and her tone is the same: business, stoic, appreciative.  She’s straight A’s of course- but also professional and tough.  I would compare her to KG, but I’ve already done that 8 times on this blog.

Like any family, you see each other’s best and worst traits.  One kid gets a 48 on the exam and it’s like, buck up, work harder, come on.  Another gets accepted into Northwestern or wins the Science Fair and you’re infused with pride.  Someone’s mother gets sick and he’s off all day and you’re like, I’m sorry.  A kid who was always good does something bad. Gets caught with weed or cheats on a test or something.  You feel it because now they’re grown-up and not ready for it.

I don’t know.  It’s not an easy racket, but I highly recommend it.

Pictures from Pais Vasco

March 11, 2011

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This past weekend we took a trip to Northern Spain with our friends Daniela and Juan. We stayed in Vitoria and drove to several medieval towns on Saturday and Sunday. We went to Laguardia, Alvala, Elciego, and two other places I can’t remember the names of. Elciego was special because there was a winery with a building by Frank Gehry. It was beautiful. I will put pictures on the blog once I buy new batteries for the camera (FYI, it is always better to purchase rechargeable batteries when moving abroad for a year).

The trip was filled with sight-seeing, eating, and Spanish practice. It was a dream. The towns were all surrounded by mountains that looked like the set of The Sound of Music. I kept signing “the hills are alive…” but I was on my own. Sean says he has never seen the movie and I am not sure it was shown in the past in Spain during Franco’s reign… Perhaps this is because Franco was a Nazi supporter. Anyway, it was gorgeous and the air was so fresh. It was also interesting to hear and see the Basque language. Street signs had strange words with lots of “x’s” and “z’s” . -bl