Archives for the month of: October, 2010

Since I talked about high art in one of the Paris posts, I thought I would share some of my snapshots of street art from our travels. This sparked a breakfast table conversation between Julia and I about what exactly should be considered street art. Is any doodle on the street a candidate for this label, or does it have to be an intricate graffiti mural? My pics are more of the former kind, so I use the term “street art” here loosely. What do you think constitutes street art?

Sprayed on a wall in Paris, near the Sacre Coeur

Literal street art in Vernon, France (near Giverny)

Hello Kitty (or should I say Hola Kitty?) in Lagos, Portugal

Whether street art or no, these scribbles made me smile:-)




This past weekend, Joanna, one of our friends from orientation, invited us to spend a night at her apartment in La Palma, the little town where she teaches. The population of La Palma is about 10,000 people, and I was intrigued to see a Spanish small town, since Julia and I are having the opposite living experience in Sevilla (pop.=703,000). In the city center, La Palma feels like other Spanish cities I have been to, with several plazas fronting pretty church facades. A couple of differences-

1) Every eye was upon us when we sat down at a café or restaurant.

2) About one out of every two people was holding a baby. No exaggeration!

3) 10 minutes walking from the city center ended in farm fields stretching to the horizon.

We took advantage of the countryside to do some “trekking” (British English for hiking). Though the flat fields didn’t hold the charm or grandeur of mountains or coastlines, the overwhelming silence apart from bird calls and distant tractors droning was a nice reprieve from Sevilla’s constant buzz and clatter.

Picnic spot

Sunset in the fields

“Hay cathedral”

When Julia and I returned, we watched a frightening depiction of the future in Blade Runner with Agustín and Antonio. It made our time outside of the city seem even more precious!



Nothing too interesting to report about this week. It has been nice feeling more and more familiar with the teachers and kids at the school and getting used to the commute. My classes run the gamut of eagerly interested students to the bad boys in the back row who do not want to participate. Most of the classes have 3o or more students! And I have one class of 16-year-olds with 4 girls and 26 boys!!! I’m having to get back in touch with my middle-school-self to remember what I would find interesting and engaging in the classroom. I really enjoy the work so far- it is challenging and fun at the same time.

Today, Julia and I ventured to the wonderful world of Ikea! It involved only a short bus ride from the city center before we arrived at the land of fabulous and cheap Swiss design. Our plan was to stock up on blankets and comforters as winter is slowly creeping in at night here. Inside, the store felt so familiar, that I would be startled when announcements would come on in Spanish instead of English!

It was Julia’s first time ever to an Ikea! We thought she should get a button, like the kind they hand out at Disneyland for people’s first trip.

We made sure to stop at the cafeteria for lunch- check out the bocadillo (sandwich) the width of my shoulders for only 2.50 euro! Now we know where the cheap eats can be found!

Some experiences feel the same everywhere, such as a shopping trip to Ikea. It was fun to feel a bit of home today!



Writing postcards in the park near our apartment…the domesticated peacocks get a little too close for comfort!

The risks that writers take!



On Saturday, Julia and I ventured out to a park near our apartment to grab dinner at the Festival of Nations, a temporary installation of merchandise and food booths representative of countries around the world. 2 weeks ago, we had the most horrible Mexican food I have ever encountered: a concoction of 2 soggy tortillas topped with a rubbery square of cheese warmed in a microwave that claimed to be an enchilada. This time, we picked the Brazilian booth, with hopes that the attendees, decked in their flag colors from head-to-toe and moving energetically to their music, would prepare some decent food. Though not as bad as the Mexican, the Brazilian fell in at mediocre- a salty black bean and meat stew with rice, and toasted manioc flour. Fortunately, there is always a show to distract the festival-goers, such as African drummers or Argentinian dancers.

On our way home, we encountered an entirely different kind of spectacle. We could hear loud music and crowds of people in the street perpendicular to ours, so we wandered over to see. Here is what we found…

I recorded a little video of this for ya’ll, but WordPress would not let me upload it, and Facebook said it would take a mere 892 hours 27 minutes to upload! Our internet connection in the apartment is reliable, but a little slow, which makes uploading pictures a tediously long process and uploading videos apparently impossible. So, here is a picture- it was a procession of a float topped with Virgin Mary, carried on the shoulders of about 20 men, complete with marching band behind. I think this is a little preview of what we will see during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in April! I love that this city that has surprises around every corner:-)



Before I properly begin the post, here’s a little bit about Julia’s and I’s apartment building: it consists of only 3 units, stacked like building blocks on top of each other, wedged between 2 larger building. Julia and I live in the 3rd story apartment, close to the accessible roof where we hang our laundry and enjoy views of Sevilla’s cathedral. Now, to the post.

During the 3 weeks we’ve been living here, we had bumped into only one of our neighbors, a young guy living in the apartment below us. Julia and I supposed we would inevitably meet all of our neighbors at some point, but wondered if we should introduce ourselves sooner rather than later. That burden was lifted from us on Wednesday afternoon, when I returned home from Jérez and found a note on our doorstep in Spanish and an English translation that was later admitted to have been generated by Google Translator. The note was from Antonio and Agustín, the 2 guys from the 2nd floor, and they were letting us know that they were thinking of “making a party” that Friday, and that we were invited along with any of our friends. Julia and I were immediately ecstatic! We’ve been praying for friends here in Sevilla, since the friends we made during orientation are scattered across southern Spain.

After our initial joyous reaction, our anxieties began to bubble to the surface- would our language levels make conversation difficult? What kind of party was it going to be? Since we don’t have any friends in Sevilla, was it ok that just Julia and I showed up? Should we bring anything? And the most fretful question of all- what were we going to wear???

Here’s how the evening unfolded…

7:30pm- Julia and I decide to go out for a snack. We haven’t heard from Agustín or Antonio, despite leaving a reciprocal note on their door. Trying not to be too disappointed, we both are doubtful if the party is actually going to happen. On our way out of the building, we hear voices at the bottom of the stairs, and sure enough, it is Antonio, and a friend, Lola. They seem very excited to see us, and tell us about the party- 11:30pm, on the roof, bring something to drink, plans for going to a discoteca (club) afterwards. It’s happening!

7:45pm- Browsing the grocery store aisles, Julia and I realize we haven’t a clue what to bring to a Spanish party. Not wanting to feign knowledge of either Spanish wine or beer selections, we settle on Malibu rum, pineapple juice and Sprite- Malibu seemed an appropriate offering from the California neighbors!

8:00-10:00pm- Dinner and a nap

10:00-11:30pm- Outfit changes, energizing dance music, pep talks to chase away our anxieties…

11:45pm- Activity on the stairs! Shameless spying through our door’s peephole. Seems like quite a lot of people going to roof. Quite a lot of well-dressed, older-looking people. Anxieties are renewed and outfit changes re-considered…

11:50pm- We finally muster up the courage to go to the roof (aka Antonio and Agustín knocked on our door and ask if we are coming). Deep breaths, and then, we’re on the roof. There’s about 15 people, guys and girls, in their mid-twenties. Of course, all our anxieties are proven ridiculous as everyone is friendly, and interested in us. Furthermore, we are able to understand them, and respond in turn! Not without many many many mistakes, I am sure, but communication is happening! In Spanish! We find out that most of them are working on their PhDs at the University of Sevilla.

2:00am- Moving to the discoteca is suggested. Conversation continues. After 20 minutes, about half the group leaves for the discoteca, after trying to convince the rest of the group to come too.

2:30am- We arrive at the discoteca. Julia and I follow the group as they pass the bouncers with a list, and, then the bouncers in front of the reserved area.  About 30 people are in the reserved area, passing around Champagne. Julia and I give each other wondering looks, asking What are we doing here???

4:15am- After dancing, and chatting as much as a discoteca admits, we leave with Antonio and Lola, though the rest of the group stays. Julia and I try to hide our irrepressible yawns.

4:30am- Arrive home!

4:35am- Sleep!!!

So there you have it- the account of meeting our neighbors! Much less scary than I thought it would be. Many promises of getting together again were thrown around, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Friday night was a promising beginning!

Now, to my coffee:-)



This past weekend, Julia and I, along with several people we met at our orientations, went to Lagos, Portugal. It’s reputed to be a great beach getaway, and a favorite escape from the cold and rain for northern Europeans. Lagos is a beautiful city, with dramatic coastlines a la Big Sur and a charming downtown filled with good restaurants and fun dance clubs. Sadly, we had the misfortune of visiting during a weekend forecasted to be full of showers. We were tenacious and insisted on our beach time, even if it was interrupted by sprints to shelter during the intermittent downpours. You can see the rapid weather shifts in the pics below:










These pictures were taken within 15 minutes of each other! Though we didn’t achieve tans (or a sunburn on my part), we did discover that the people in Lagos believe in good food, and generous portions of it. None of this tapas business to be found. A lot of what we had was very familiar- burgers, pasta carbonara, and fresh seafood. One of our favorite discoveries was a little crepe and cake place owned by a German lady living in Lagos. She makes her cakes fresh every morning, and rotates the kinds of cakes she has. She also is passionate about gnomes, and uses them liberally in her decorations. They even mischievously found their way into the pictures I took of her delicious creations.










It’s not too clear in the pics, but the cheesecake and chocolate cake are surrounded by whipped cream and mixed fruits. She also served our tea and coffee in china cups and saucers- such a cute touch! Did I mention the cakes are 2 euros for a slice? The little place felt imbued with the owner’s personality, passions and eccentricities, which made for an original and fun experience. This is what food chains can never recreate.

The owner of the German cake café told us, “You either hate or love Lagos.” I don’t know about living there, but as a visitor, I couldn’t see find what there was to hate. Even in the rain.

Today was a Spanish holiday, and since I have Mondays and Fridays off, I just have to work tomorrow and Thursday. I think I will be sorely traumatized when I get a real job! On the downside, I caught a major cold this weekend. I feel sorry for my seat partner on the train tomorrow!



Although the last post may be deceiving, Julia and I did do other things in Paris than just eat. We had both done the requisite touristy things like ride the Eiffel Tower and see the Louvre before, and we were both interested in new experiences. So, we cobbled together an itinerary that we nicknamed our “Grand Garden Tour” and visited Giverny and Versailles in back-to-back day trips. Besides being a recipe for exhaustion by the end of our 2nd day, it was a really interesting study in gardening and aesthetic contrasts. The pictures below explain this best…

Day 1, Giverny:

Day 2, Versailles:

One garden designed to look natural, and the other transparently hyper-designed. Both supremely beautiful. Which garden do you think you would prefer to have in your backyard, if you could be Monet or Louis XIV?

Versailles was holding a fascinating art exhibition when we visited. Since 2008, Versailles has been been hosting year-long, single artist exhibitions with the aim of “bringing the chateau to life,” according to their program.  Takashi Murakami is this year’s chosen artist. You might recognize his name from his recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton. His works are inspired by manga as well as meetings between modern and ancient Japan and eastern and western cultures. Critics compare him to Andy Warhol because he manufactures his art like commercial products. His sculptures and paintings were dispersed throughout the palace and gardens in a way that invited comparison and contrast with their surroundings.










Isn’t it interesting how this art contrasts to the works inspired by the gardens of Giverny, such as the familiar view below?

I think both artists could be called pioneers. Some people do not like the Murakami exhibition because they say visitors come to Versailles to see Versailles, not a modern art exhibit. What do you think?

Lots of food for thought!



Cut to 12pm the night before Julia and I have a 9am flight to Paris…frantic throwing of things into suitcases and cries of despair- “I have nothing to wear!!! Paris is too cool for any item in my closet to show its non-chic face. We will be laughed out of the city by all of the stylish Parisian girls!”

After our trip, I can say that packing for Paris should be very easy if you follow 2 rules: take every black article of clothing you own and, if you happen to be visiting in the fall, every warm article of clothing you own that fits rule number 1.

Fortunately, we weren’t laughed out of the city limits. However, we were faced with an equally challenging dilemma several times a day while we were there- what to eat?

Now, it would seem that in the land of pain au chocolats, baguettes, french onion soup, macaroons, and butter galore, finding something to eat should be easy, right? I would like to believe so too. However, the city is fraught with pale imitations of these dining gems, luring innocent little tourists like me right into their bland, unremarkable traps. Our quest was to not only eat French food, but amazing, soul-expanding, epiphany-causing French food. On a budget, of course!

Here is what we found…

1. Let’s start with breakfast…at the Jean Millet patisserie. Julia and I managed to try a good amount of pain au chocolats and other various pastries on our trip, and we chose to come back Jean Millet for our last breakfast in Paris. The outer shell shatters into a million little butter-infused pieces, and the ratio of chocolate to pastry is perfect. If you’re searching for classics done right, look no further. What a wonderful way to greet the day!

2. These are some Laudrée macaroons in the Versailles gardens. Laudrée macaroons are to pastries what Christian Laboutins are to the shoe world- a brand of pure luxury. Although I’m slightly breaking my “on a budget” rule here, one bite of their vanilla bean macaroon is practically worth a pair of those red-bottomed heels. Flecked with vanilla beans, the pastry cream is strongly reminiscent of creme brulée and encased in the most delicate macaroon shells. We also tried chocolate, coffee and rose petal, but the vanilla bean was the one I was dreaming of on our plane back to Sevilla. Getting into the spirit, we ate our little cookies with hearty cries of “Let them eat Laudrée macaroons!”

3. Ok, ok, so although we could have fueled ourselves entirely on a bevy of Parisian sweets, we took a break for sanity’s, and our health’s, sake, to have some other kinds of food. Like fondue! Joanna, in the picture with me above, took us to a place that she said was very touristy but which I completely enjoyed despite the usual negative connotations that adjective usually holds. Le Refuge des Fondues is close to the Sacré Coeur, and came up with the creative solution of getting around a tax on wine served in stemmed glasses by perversely putting it in a baby bottle instead! It felt a little Twilight-esque with our blood-red bottles. Although neither the fondue, or wine, is out-of-this-world amazing, the funky atmosphere and fun dining experience make this place worth a visit!

Out of the many, many dining out experiences we had in Paris, these are my taste bud highlights. I hope you had fun reading about them!



Yikes! It has been a busy week and a half! What have we been up to here in Sevilla?

1. We went to Paris! For 5 days, to visit our friend Joanna who has quite an interesting job with the American embassy. Although we meant it to be a 4 day stay, fate intervened (aka a national transportation strike in Spain) and we had to stay an extra day. What a pity!

2. We (finally!) started our jobs! After 3 weeks, it feels like a very delayed start on the whole reason why we’re here. The teachers love putting me in the hot seat, and leaving me to the mercy of 30 Spanish teenagers to ask me questions such as what is your favorite color? What is your opinion of the current economic crisis? Do you have any pets? And do you have a boyfriend? The 12 year olds are sooooo cute! The 16 year olds, well, I have to admit I’m still a bit scared of them. At least all of the teachers I have worked with so far are extremely friendly. And I only have to work 3 days a week!

3. And, very importantly, we got internet for our apartment! So now I have no excuse not to update the blog.

Voila! And there you have it! Our last week and a half. I’m thinking of publishing a couple of successive posts on our Paris trip, if you’d like to read about our culinary and visual discoveries!