Anna's Journey

Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

In my own little corner

In Istanbul on June 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

It’s 1:30 pm, and the Call to Prayer blasts throughout Istanbul. A man’s voice, praying, chanting, bounces off walls and echoes into every corner of the city. Inside homes and mosques, people are kneeling, touching the tops of their heads to the floor in prayer. Outside, the chaos continues as though no one hears. Trams barrel through the streets, taxis honk and cut off pedestrians, men nose up beside innocent tourists, tempting them with boat cruises, lunch menus, jewelry. Women with head scarves and long skirts hold the hands of wandering children, while young teens in tank tops chew on corn on the cob, giggling. People are everywhere, and the noise of the city beats down, forcing one to retreat to the safety and quiet of her hostel room, her own tiny corner of the world.

Such has been travel in Turkey. In the morning, after a simple Turkish breakfast of Çay tea, tomato slices, cucumbers, cheese, olives, and bread, we burst into the world. We explored ancient, stunning mosques in Istanbul, bizarre fairy chimneys in Goreme, 18th century Ottoman homes in Safranbolu, and the blue waters of the Black Sea in Amasra. And each day, after horseback riding, audio tours, or a boat cruise, we returned to our little room to relax. The room could be in the second floor of a bustling youth hostel, inside a cool stone cave, or even within the aforementioned 18th century Ottoman home. But regardless, when traveling, it is important to find one’s own little piece of the world to relax and refresh before barging once more into an adventure.

We only have two more days abroad. After that, I return to begin to build my own little corner of the world in Boston. To find a car, an apartment, begin full-time teaching for the first time, and building a life. I’m not sure if the Taste of Olives will continue beyond this post; it was meant to be a blog to keep you posted on my Spanish adventures.

But life is continuing, as is my adoration of olives, so….why not? 🙂

Escaping the rain in the Hagia Sofia

Fairy chimneys left by a powerful volcano thousands of years ago

The Black Sea, baby!

"Blergh, why did we even come to Ankara?!"

Our sweet pad in an 18th century Ottoman home


The final chapter

In Salamanca on June 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm

After a lovely week of dining and driving through Lisbon with my warm Portuguese cousins, Jason and I crossed the border back into Spain for our final six days. This time, we paid our farewells to sleepy Andalucia and headed north. After a brief stop in the ancient town of Merida, where some of the oldest ruins of Spain lie squeezed between painted white homes, we bussed up to Salamanca.

Salamanca greeted us with a fury of culture and life that I haven’t experienced since Boston. Yesterday, we dined on faux-meatballs and cous cous at a vegetarian restaurant, stumbled upon a live digital poetry performance, visited a free museum with documents from the Spanish Civil War, and rocked to a concert in a university plaza. Home to an 800-year old university, Salamanca blends cavernous cathedrals and beautiful antique plazas with the freedom and expression of modern Spanish students. The sounds from the city drifting through my pension window are a mix of the shouts of students marching in the streets against corruption and the kazoos of bachelor and bachelorette parties. I feel as though I am emerging from the protective cocoon of Sanlucar and into the sometimes harsh and always exciting realities of a city.

From here, we are taking the train to Madrid for a final Spanish farewell, and then flying mid-week to Istanbul to begin our Turkish travels. The final chapter of our European adventure!

By the way, I have learned to love the taste of olives.

Sisters reunited in Lisbon!

A protest sign in Salamanca reads: "Stop feeding the debt"

Ooold books at the library of the 800-year old Salamanca university


Hanging out at the cathedral

The Feria

In Sanlucar la Mayor on May 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Last night, I lay in bed wishing that I hadn’t had green tea at 7pm, and listening to the sounds of Sanlucar floating through my window.

The crow of a rooster? Usually, but no.

The yowl of a stray cat? At times, but not last night.

The chirping of crickets? No, sir.

Last night, the sounds echoing through the wind and distracting me from sleep were the heavy bass of a drum, the rhythm of Sevillanas, and the roar of a crowd.

For the Feria has come to town.

Andalucians are people who will go out of their way to have a good time. They spent months constructing elaborate tents, or casetas, to fill a vacant lot near the center of town. They hung lights throughout the streets, and constructed a giant arch to welcome people to the biggest party of the year. And then, on Wednesday night, Raul the mayor cut the ribbon to announce the start of the Feria. Fireworks sparkled to the sound of a marching band. The Cruzcampo cerveza and white wine flowed freely. Women squeezed themselves into tight fitting, brightly colored flamenco dresses, painted their lips red, men put on their finest white shirts, and arm in arm they strolled the streets of the fair.

The Feria is a county fair with pizzazz. The sleazy carnies are the same, but other than that, this fair is nothing like anything I’ve seen in New England. Each night the town hall hosted concerts with smoke and disco lights that lasted well past three in the morning. Every caseta came complete with tables, a kitchen, bar, and waitstaff. Most were private. Some had televisions and speakers, others had music blaring into the night. Children rode live ponies on the merry-go-round. Trucks parked in the lot selling candy, coconut slices, cotton candy, hamburgers, and – naturally – hot chocolate and churros. People arrived at 6:30pm with their families and stayed out until 6:30 the next morning. At midday, kids rode horses and grandfathers drove their horse and carriages through the streets. People dined on tortilla, jamon, chicken kebab and fried fish.

As we circled the Feria each day with my visiting parents, we stumbled across friends at every corner. I waved to our next door neighbors, we chatted with the guy from the phone store, we complemented our gym teacher on her excellent physique in her flamenco dress, and we were invited into several casetas to partake in the festivities. We danced the choreographed Sevillanas, participated in the line dances, and just enjoyed ourselves with the people who we see every day in our town.

This town in the olive fields of southern Spain has become my community in eight months. I can’t believe that I will only be here for 16 more days before transitioning onto the next adventure (Turkey, here we come!).

And although the Feria kept me from falling asleep last night, I won’t forget the importance that people here place on – quite simply – having a good time.

The arch to the feria

Semana Santa

In Sanlucar la Mayor on April 22, 2011 at 7:40 pm

If you ask a resident of Sanlucar la Mayor about Semana Santa, you might receive an answer such as: “I believe the Virgin signifies the adoration of the woman”, or “I don’t see why religion has to be paraded through the streets”, or simply, “I just don’t like it”. Everyone has a different take, and depending on whom you ask, Semana Santa is either the most important week of the year, or the most frustrating, as no stores are open and bars raise their prices to astronomical highs.

Let’s take a step back.

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week before Easter. Every day represents a different day in the week before the death of Christ. Sevilla is the epicenter of Semana Santa in Spain, and possibly the world. Sanlucar la Mayor holds a miniature version of the events. Each afternoon, the pasos – giant, enormously heavy scenes depicting an image of the Holy Week, adorned with silver and gold – are carried by 40 men through the streets. Each man carries 40 kilos, or the equivalent of about 80 pounds, on his back for hours at a time. By the end, their shoulders and necks are giant and swollen, sometimes bloody. Often they walk the streets without shoes. The pasos are accompanied by hundreds – and in Sevilla, over a thousand – of Nazarenos, or people dressed in floor length silk robes with giant pointy hat that only show their eyes. Americans will recognize this costume as that adopted by the KKK. People pay their hermandades (brotherhoods) each month of the year for to walk with the pasos as a Nazareno. And when it rains, as it did this Thursday, the entire event is canceled.

In Sevilla, Semana Santa is something like Times Square at New Year’s, so I happily stayed in our town for the celebrations. Each day, I watched the pasos carried slowly down the tiny streets, followed by the solemn beat of drums and siren of trumpets. I observed the Nazarenos, many of whom are women, marching alongside the pasos, and stopping to chat with neighbors or hold their candles above the waiting hands of the crowd, letting wax drippings add to giant balls that have been collected for years. I watched a figurine of the Virgin, in a long velvet robe under a canopy of silver, with hundreds of candles and flowers beneath her, seem to float down the street. I must admit, while I didn’t – couldn’t – understand, I was shocked for a moment into silence at the beauty of her sad, sad porcelain face.

Planning and holding on

In Sanlucar la Mayor on April 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I am suddenly aware of the brevity of my time here in Spain. Months that once seemed to stretch endlessly before me are now cut short by the knowledge that I have a job this fall! While on one hand an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I am beyond excited, on the other hand, my mind refuses to focus on the moment here in Spain, instead racing to the future. It all seems twisted together. As I ate paella with a good friend who visited this past week, our conversation morphed from the taste of the rice to the best way to buy a car in Boston.

My hiatus from my career is slowly ending. Of course, it had to end. But is it a window that will open again, I wonder? Will I have another opportunity to live in a foreign country, to speak the language, to build deep friendships with the people who reside there? I think I so. I hope so. But I don’t know.

I know that life has unexpected turns, and that it can creep up on you, or rush at you, so that your moments spent wandering through the olive fields become just memories that you ponder as you drive to work each day.

Luckily, my position for next year is to teach Spanish. I will continue to immerse myself in the language and culture of this beautiful country – my temporary home – but this time, through the eyes of my students. As they taste the Spanish tortilla, clap along to flamenco, and learn the sentences that I use every day, perhaps I will awaken in them the desire to travel, to reside in strange lands, to learn to speak a language fluently that is not their own. To understand people who are not from their neighborhood, or country. To communicate with them; to learn from them.

This is my goal.

But my time here is not up yet.

And yet, I feel palpably that change is once again surrounding me, sweeping me up, directing me onto the next stage. My next stage – with a car, a commute, a full-time job – is exactly what I want for next year. And because of this year – a year of teaching, learning, and adventuring – I am excited about the parts of life that often seem so ordinary, even boring. I am eager to jump into my first full-time teaching position, to develop curriculum, delve into lesson plans, join a learning community as a faculty member, and stretch myself professionally.

But for now, hombre, I have to enjoy my time in Spain!

One misstep

In Sanlucar la Mayor on March 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm

tobillo: ankle

apretar: squeeze

vendar: to bandage

hinchado: swollen

So many new words I have learned since Thursday.

I was at the gym. Jason and I have been going to a Body Combat class every week, where we practice punching and kicking sacos, kneeing, jumping, and balancing. Some nights I’m not that into it, but on Thursday I was going all out. Pretending I was Jennifer Garner in Alias, kicking butt and taking names, hair flying out of my ponytail, grunting with each kick, with a grimace of serious concentration.

Which quickly changed to a grimace of pain.

In one of my favorite moves, you leap up, change position, knee forward, and then jump back into your original position.

Anyhow, I had been meaning to invest in some new sneakers with a bit more support, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

So I jumped up in my flimsy walking sneakers, and landed on the exact wrong side of my foot. I felt a pop, and limped to one of the punching sacks to sit down. Thirty long seconds later, Jason realized I wasn’t just taking a water break.

And now I’m out of commission for at least 10 days with a giant bandage wrapped around my right foot and a pair of crutches borrowed from the family who run the coffee shop. No work, no walking to the grocery store, no dancing in Sevilla, no bodega tours in Jerez, and definitely no gym.

Accidents happen so quickly, and it’s no use to think about what if I had changed my shoes? Or what if I decided to stay home that evening? Or what if I had just been a little less enthusiastic with my punching and kneeing?

But the weather is unbearably gorgeous, and I can stretch outside in the sun with my book,  and take long 100 meter walks to the end of the road. And I have a new TA job over the internet and I can increase my job application output. And if anyone wants to Skype, I am so happy to hear about your life.

Because suddenly I have so much time.

C’est la vie, no?



Love in the form of chocolate bizcocho

In Sanlucar la Mayor on March 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

I’d been feeling a little blue this week, and quite frankly, been acting like a grump with the one person who has to deal with me 24/7.

Maybe it’s renewed homesickness after a week of intense family and friends time. Or maybe it’s the waiting for jobs to respond to me with hiring decisions. Or perhaps the nonstop rain pelting our little town.   Regardless of the reason, I came home from work yesterday in a bad mood.

And what did Jason do to respond to my mood? Instead of getting upset, he took me out grocery shopping and bought me a chocolate sponge cake. Real cakes that aren’t piles of whipped cream are rare here, and I had wanted to try this one for a while. It looked like my aunt’s banana cake with chocolate chunks sprinkled on top. The kind of cake I would bake if we had an oven. We took it home ate slices with glasses of pink champagne. Although it tasted a bit like the matzo meal cakes you buy on Passover, it was still chocolatey deliciousness.

After filling up on cake, we went out to catch the final dance number of Flamenco School Musical at our local community theater. There’s nothing like seeing Spaniards in bright sequin costumes dancing flamenco to the tune of “Dancing Queen” to raise your spirits.

I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and happy to be back in Spain.

And the sun is even peeking out today.

Just a little ode to the guy I love.


In Sanlucar la Mayor on February 18, 2011 at 11:47 am

In one week, I will be back in Boston.

It’s like a reverse vacation. A vacation from a vacation, so to speak. A glimpse of reality. A look at the cold winter and snow that will be waiting for me next year. A week of reuniting with family and friends, enjoying a bagel or two (maybe with peanut butter!), maybe even watching the Oscars on Sunday night.

And then, before I know it, I’ll be back in Spain. Back at my colegio, among the olive trees, with the sun shining down as I wait for the bus (unless there is a tormenta of rain, which is also a distinct possibility), giving English classes, working out at my gym, and hanging out in the plaza El Salvador on Saturday afternoons.

The thing is, at this point, I’m not sure which is more of a reality. Will it feel like I’m snapping back to my ordinary life when I’m back in Boston? Or will it feel like I’m removed from it all, because my life is here? I’m developing friendships here, I have an apartment that feels like home. But I am assuredly a foreigner. When I speak to people the first time, they look at me strangely, and ask, “Where are you from?” Back in Boston, I’ll be able to order food without the waiter asking if I would like a menu in English. I’ll fit in.

I suppose that it isn’t that one place is more real than the other. Both Sevilla and Boston are my realities. I am myself in both places. I have friendships in both cities, although they are across the ocean. I know that my community here is temporary, but it is a community nonetheless.

More than anything, though, I am so excited to be back in Boston in one week!

Chopping and sizzling

In Sanlucar la Mayor on February 1, 2011 at 9:14 pm

As I write this, a lentil ground turkey soup is burbling on the stove.

I took a sick day today for flu-like symptoms that are spreading like wildfire around the school (getting sick  comes with the profession, unfortunately), and now that I’m feeling a little better, I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen.*

That’s right. You heard me.

These past few years, I had become the queen of fast, thrown together dinners, even eating cereal when I was too tired to cook (sorry, Mom!). Cooking was a chore. I wished I could just snap my fingers and delicious, healthy meals would appear on my table.

This year is different.

With a little more time on my hands and the support of a guy who happens to be an incredible chef, I am learning to love to cook. I love finding new recipes on and changing them to suit my style. I’m learning to make a killer tomato sauce. I’m beginning to understand the mysteries of spices. I’m even just starting to experiment with meat and fish. Last week, I made cous cous with garbanzo beans and veggies, pasta with homemade meat sauce, and fried fish. The week before that, it was ratatouille crepes with green salad. Chopping, boiling, stewing, and sizzling are fast becoming some of my favorite verbs. This is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding hobbies a girl could ask for.

I’ll let you know how the soup turns out!


*Now, you might be thinking, what is a young lady with the flu doing in the kitchen? She shouldn’t be anywhere near where food is prepared. But you must understand, that the only other person who will be eating this soup is, unfortunately, either destined to get the virus or not, regardless of who cooks the meal!


Teaching solo

In Espartinas on January 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I led my own classes this week because the main teacher was home sick. Although I was unprepared, I pulled it off – managed the classroom, conversed in English, reviewed homework, and taught 3 lessons!

Although I was more nervous than I have ever been since arriving in Spain, I thought to myself, I can do this.

And I can.