Monthly Archives: February 2014

My Thursday Treat

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. That’s my philosophy, and I’m sticking to it.

On Thursdays, I meet up with my intercambio pal Noelia in a little Moroccan tea house, and café con leche just won’t do. I mean, why have bog-standard coffee when you can have a chocolate-sprinkled pagoda…? And it’s not just what’s on top that matters, but what lurks beneath. Yesterday it was a double shot of amaretto. Sometimes, I go for rum 🙂

Creamy coffee

Gives you a heart attack just looking at it, doesn’t it…?!

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Toledo Deserted

Toledo is a city of contrasts – at times bustling with throngs of punters, at other times desolate and devoid of life.This sea of empty metal chairs and tables outside Burger King on the main square caught my eye a couple of days ago, when I was on my way home around 10pm, after leaving a busy restaurant.

Toledo Zoco

Did you spot the McDonald’s “M” reflected in the table in the centre? MD’s is right next door. I’ve never eaten in either fast food joint. They are both heaving with tourists during the day.

The War Of The Shoulds

I’ve been poorly for the last couple of weeks*. Nothing serious, hold the grapes and the flowers (but do send the chocs). In short, my life has been very much restricted to the sinister Computer-Bed-Bathroom Triangle.

At times like these, suddenly nothing is more compelling than playing mind games with oneself, like the Destructive Thought Spiral (this involves making up future-life scenarios so horrendous that not even Quentin Tarantino could have dreamt them up in a booze-fuelled, fever-ridden nightmare). But absolute favourite mind fuck, by a long shot, is The War Of The Shoulds.

It’s a wretched battle, where one’s brave little Think Positive soldiers, deployed by a ramshackle, atrophied Self Esteem Unit, are macerated in the maws of the Shoulds. Not only are the Shoulds invincible, but they multiply with every blow they are dealt.

My last skirmish Waterloo went something like this:

I should call the Student Loan Company. It’s this week’s BS (Big Should/Bullshit). They wrote to me, I need to negotiate new payment terms… I so don’t want to make that phonecall! Fret, fret…

My Spanish should be perfect by now. This spawns another whole slew of Shoulds: I should be living in shared accommodation (meh!) with Spanish speakers. I should get a part-time job that has me interacting with the general public (double-meh!). I should get myself a Spanish boyfriend (mehmehmehmeeeeeehhhhh!)

I should maybe colour my hair. Then I could go blonder and blonder and blonder in accordance with The Middle Aged Women’s Directive. I’m fascinated by this phenomenon, you see, especially here in Spain, where hordes of greying, swarthy females with smouldering black eyes suddenly feel compelled to reach for the bleach bottle in a quest of fulfilling their life-long ambition: being a Blonde Bombshell. Now or never!

Penelope

Fun. For Halloween.

I should aspire to be a homeowner. Good God, as averse as I am to dealing with day-to-day mind-numbingly boring crap, I’d be sprouting even more grey hairs every time the roof tiles needed changing, the gutters dredging, the termites shooing, etc. And then there’s the damp problem. There is always a damp problem. And no taking up sticks and leaving it to the landlord to sort out his shit hole, no, it’ll be up to me. Not in a million years…

I should have had a child. Only kidding. This is the one thing I’ve always known for sure I should NEVER EVER do. On the other hand, I could at least have offered my squealing, blood-dripping first born to the Student Loan Company, seeing that I’ll never be able to repay them in actual money, even if I live and work until age 101.

KnotI should have internalised the ins and outs of the German spelling reform. It came into force in 1996. That’s nearly two decades ago. I’ve a 105-page pdf clogging up my hard drive, which explains the whole shebang, in gruesome minutiae. Sometimes, when I’m feeling brave, I take a peek at a random chapter. But, but, but…. THIS IS JUST NOT HOW I LEARNT IT! It used to make sense to me, German spelling, I excelled in dictation tests. Now my Teflon brain twists itself into the Gordian knot. The only way to make any of this newfangled codswallop stick, it seems, is when my friend Tanja posts withering corrections below my comments on facebook (“Look, I’ve explained this to you before – if ‘ss’ follows two vowels, it becomes ‘ß’!”). Oh God, I’m slowly turning one of those egits I despise with a passion – people who cannot string an intelligible sentence together in their own bloody language! And down I careen into a Destructive Thought Spiral, where I’m mute and illiterate, languishing on a street corner with all my possessions crammed into a laundry bag. And donning a head of golden locks.

I should do more housework. I’ll do it tomorrow. Right after I’ve called the Student Loan Company.

[*I’ve fully recovered from the lurgy by now. I’ve even had some positive thoughts. Mostly about cake. ]

Silly Sunday: Key West Public Art

Looks like that guy down there is having a ball, chilling and wistfully gazing up at these five frisky frolickers? In fact, one of them looks like she’s about to pay him some very special attention…

He’s got more in common with these buxom beauties than you might have guessed at first glance… he isn’t real either!

And neither is he!

And neither is he!

Red Gate, Yellow Armchairs, Stone Baby

Here are some more pictures taken on my drizzly excursion to Sintra (Portugal), at Christmas.

Red Door

How's that for some eye-catching outdoor furniture...?

How’s that for some eye-catching outdoor furniture…?

Stone baby front

Stone Baby side

The baby was part of an outdoor sculpture exhibition. For the most amusing exhibit, click here.

And If you would like to see a handful more pictures of beautiful Sintra, click here.

Princess Pugsy – The Star Of Key West

Two years ago, when my friends emigrated to from the UK to the US, Princess Pugsy made her way across the choppy Atlantic on the Queen Mary, because no aircraft carrier would allow her to travel in the only manner befitting her status, namely unsedated and as hand lap luggage.

She was well-received, not just on her new island home, but also when she cropped up in a couple of my blog posts before, so I thought I’d share these:

Pugsy basket

Cosied up at home

Ready to go out

Ready to paint the town red

Breaking the local laws

Breaking the local laws

Mummy's pride and joy

Mummy’s pride and joy

"Helping" Daddy with emails

“Helping” Daddy with emails

Key West is just crazy about dogs. See those übercool doggies I uploaded last month, in case you missed them.

The Writing’s On The Wall…

When I got back from Key West a couple of weeks ago, I found this wedged into my bathroom window:

"For Sale or For Rent"

“For Sale or For Rent”

Although I didn’t know the sign was going to be there, it wasn’t exactly a huge surprise. While we were on our Christmas break together in Lisbon, I told (my landlady) Sofía that I was planning on leaving Toledo this spring. She said she would put up the place for sale very soon, because it would probably take ages to shift it.

Ever since Spain’s construction bubble burst its overbloated, bribe-infested guts in 2008, selling property has become extremely difficult. The same goes for finding tenants. With a youth unemployment rate of around 55%, young people have little choice but to keep living with their parents. Forever.

The local housing situation is probably worst in Toledo old town, which, although of overwhelming rustic beauty, is very inconvenient for daily living, to put it mildly. Car access is restricted, parking (even a bike) is virtually impossible, the internet is excruciatingly slow, noise travels like through a megaphone, burst water pipes are a monthly occurrence. And let’s not talk about the horrors of cockroach season. In its glorious past as Spain’s capital, Toledo’s historic centre was home to 30,000 people. The present headcount is around 9,000 and dwindling.

When I moved here in 2011, I knew that Toledo wasn’t going to be my home forever. I was reluctant to move to a big city first off, because I didn’t want to get sucked into the parallel universe that is the expat community. My prime objective for moving to Spain was (and is) to learn Spanish, a feat more easily achieved in a small-ish town with few foreigners skipping about. And this strategy has, on the whole, worked quite well for me.

My linguistic obsessions aside, I’ve been finding it hard to build a satisfying life for myself in Toledo. Having said that, I’ve made a bunch of lovely friends here, I certainly don’t want to poo-poo that.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is this: I miss London. Or maybe not London per se, but what it represents: A bustling capital, where the whole world is at home. I miss having an extensive array of cultural and educational offerings and, even more importantly, convenient access to food from all over the planet right on my doorstep. Toledo may have the most succulent tortillas, the tastiest hams, the most flavoursome of (Manchego) cheeses, the smokiest of picante chorizo….

…but every once in a while, all I want is  some decent sushi. Or proper Chinese food from northern China, not that generic gloopy pap that is served up in Chinese restaurants all over the world (except in China). I want a curry that’s actually HOT. I want grocery shops that sell coconut milk, brown basmati rice, soba noodles, rice crackers, pitch-black German wholegrain bread. I want a cake that’s not a flippin’ muffin or a brownie.

Also, I feel the need to connect with a small handful of expats like myself. The blogs are great, but they only go so far. I miss speaking German with people who are not my family. I want to speak REAL English with a Brit who shares my set of cultural (UK) references and unsanitary vocab. I need people who understand, on an emotional as well as on a practical level, what it’s like to move countries.

Some of you may vaguely remember a post I wrote almost a year ago, contemplating Barcelona as my next destination. Well, after a lot of umming and ahing, I decided against it. Why? Because it’s not compatible with The Prime Directive, i.e. getting to grips with Spanish good and proper. Although Castilian Spanish is, according to what I’ve been told, sufficient for navigating Barcelona, it is the capital of Catalonia, and the official language there is Catalan. If you’ve been watching the news, you will know that the whole issue is politically very sensitive. I might well encounter situations where people in Barcelona will reply to me in English rather than in Castilian. I’ve consulted with my besieged brain, and it threatened me,  in no uncertain terms, with a permanent nervous breakdown if assaulted by yet another language.

To be honest, I simply lack the motivation right now to pour tons of effort into learning a “boutique” language spoken by so few people, but it would bug me no end if I couldn’t understand the signs and conversations around me, and if, when out with a group of local friends, they’d be forced to switch languages in order to include me in their conversation. It would make me feel like I was right back at square one, and after having worked so hard at it over the past couple of years.

So, Madrid it is. It may not be as beautiful as Barcelona, and there’s not a beach in sight, but it offers a number of advantages, besides speaking the right language. For instance:

  • It is close to Toledo (just 80km away), so I will still be able to see my friends fairly regularly. They like going to Madrid for things like exhibitions, food, cinema.
  • My Portuguese teacher, who I’m growing rather fond of, also teaches in Madrid, so I can keep up my lessons with her. Besides, I shouldn’t have any trouble finding some willing Portuguese bods in Madrid for language intercambios. I’ve not managed to find anyone in Toledo.
  • Most of my friends in Toledo have lived in Madrid and some are actually from there, so I can tap them for local knowledge and contacts.
  • Madrid has excellent public transport connections to the rest of Spain (and, of course, the rest of the world). I don’t have a car, and I detest driving, so this is a huge plus point.

I’m in no immediate rush to move, but I’d like to be out of here before the beginning of July. I need to do my research… I’m looking for an affordable neighbourhood which has character, but isn’t too grubby.

Do any of you happen to know any Madrid-based bloggers I could cyber-stalk?