The internet has cut out again. And while it’s not terribly critical at this moment, I’m still rather annoyed at it. Not just because it’s flakey, but because I thought we’d fixed this. I haven’t had any trouble with it in (two months? A month and a half? However long it’s been since I stopped complaining about how finicky the internet here was. But since the internet is broken, I can’t go check that) ages. I’d eventually come to the conclusion that two of the wireless networks in this building must somehow be similar, and Miss Eliza was latching on to the one that was further away but still sort of reading this one, which is how I could have next to no signal (judged by the fact that it was REALLY slow and sometimes I couldn’t load web pages at all) while Airport thought that it was receiving full strength. And when we made the ivan network, we also had the wrong signal, and the fact that it was someone else’s internet explains why it was always so wobbly, and why the original WEBSTAR network didn’t disappear after we renamed it ivan.
So I tried renaming WEBSTAR again, and the newly created Pepi was fast and cheerful and came when called. And I was proud of myself for having solved things all on my own. But I don’t know what’s up with the Pepi network right now. Half the time it doesn’t show up on the list, and the other half of the time it does show up, but I still can’t connect to it. And unplugging the modem and plugging it back in hasn’t done anything. I’m giving it a time out right now; hopefully it will be more willing to cooperate when I’m ready to post this.
But I didn’t intent to write this entry to complain about the flakey internet (because I didn’t know it was broken again until I tried to go online); I was going to tell you about my shopping trip, and about Thanksgiving In Spain.
See, the PRESHCO program has this feature known as reembolsos (reimbursements). This is essentially about 300 euros per student set aside for “cultural activities.” Cultural activities can be anything from food to internet to concerts to tourist trips to gym memberships to, well, just about anything that isn’t alcohol. (Some of mine, for example, are paying for the bookbinding class and the guitar rental for my guitar class.) To get the reimbursements, you submit receipts and a cover sheet explaining expenses. There are specific days that you can do this, and you have to turn it at least 50 euros of expenses at a time. Tuesday is the last day to submit receipts. I have close to 100 euros of reimbursements I haven’t claimed yet, and only had about 15 euros worth of receipts. So.
At this point I should pause to point out to those of you who haven’t figured out already that I generally do my best to compete for the Queen of the Cheapskates award. I think that frugality is a bit of a hereditary trait (or a learned behavior. I’m not arguing that one right now) in my family, and while I have a weakness for books and thrift stores and yarn, and seem to have inherited my mother’s tendency for impulse buys (what? What moderately well-off person wouldn’t buy a vanilla bean if they saw it in the grocery store?), a reticence to spend money and a college student budget usually keep those under control. But a trustworthy source had essentially said to me, “I’ll give you 85 euros if you go spend it by Tuesday.” What would you have done? I went on a shopping trip.
I bought myself a pair of boots (tall black flats, suede, fringe on the side). I was proud of myself for remembering my european shoe size (40. Or possibly 41. But they only went up to 40 (this seems to be not unusual in Spain. Do many American shoe manufacturers not make anything bigger than an eight and a half or a nine? I know that there’s that one sneaker company that won’t make anything bigger than a six and a half, but I thought that was an exceptional case. And I know that Spanish women seem to tend to be shorter, which can tend towards smaller feet, but my feet aren’t that large. What do people with feet bigger than mine do?)). And I’m sure that they’re useless for most boot-related purposes (besides the obvious one of wearing), but they make me happy, which is worth a not inconsiderable amount. And they give me another footwear option when it’s cold. I’m wearing them right now in hopes of starting to break them in.
After shoes, I wandered the main shopping drag looking for a jacket I liked. (Or rather, looking for a jacket that I liked that would look good on me and wasn’t completely out of my price range.) I had just decided that I hadn’t seen anything that fit my criteria when it started to rain, so I headed for the Corte Ingles, the big department store, since I could browse there in the dry for a while (and to get a writable DVD to store pictures on. I filled up all three gigs of camera memory cards on Thursday at the Thanksgiving dinner, and after losing Miss Eliza I I’m a little paranoid about backing things up.)
I feel that clothes shopping was certainly a cultural experience. To start with, I realized almost immediately that I didn’t have a clue what size I was, since european clothing sizes run similarly in scale to european shoe sizes. After wandering around for a while, trying on various jackets that were far outside my price range, I came to the conclusion that I’m somewhere in the 40s, depending on whether or not the object in question is knit. Purple and grey seem to be in right now, which I found to be a very pleasant color scheme (unlike the last time I did any serious shopping, when the prints seemed to all be retro-seventies and the prevalent colors were bright orange and lime green, with the occasional bright pink highlights). It occurred to me that I didn’t have a clue of what designer names were liable to be miles out of my price range (I don’t have a huge clue in English, either, but I at least have a vague idea, and there is a bit of a muchness to the kinds of names in different price ranges), so I just wandered around for a while, pretending that I was planning on spending enough money to be looking at the clothes I was looking at (Clothes are so expensive! And I think it’s worse in Spain.) until I found a section that seemed to be heavy on the sort of over-a-shirt, under-a-coat jackets of the sort I was looking for. It was sometimes quite puzzling, though. I would be looking at a sweater-thing, and then realize that there was a prettier one made out of the same yarn in much the same pattern but about three inches longer and with a ribbon around the waist, but the price on the longer one was twice as much as the price on the shorter one, vaulting it from “on the upper edge of what I’m looking to spend” to “WAY too much money,” for no appreciable difference that I could see.
I picked up two sales clerks, and realized that my buying-things vocabulary is woefully lacking. (They teach you about restaurant scenarios in Spanish class, but not regular stores. Except sometimes grocery stores. Clearly they think that you don’t need clothing, just food. I guess that there is less of a nudity taboo is Europe, but it’s still cold here.) Luckily the stores clerks seemed content to hover while I browsed, after the requisite cheerful greeting or question if there was anything they could help me with, and, at one point, tell me that the “rebecas” were over in that section, and that if I went any further in this direction I would get into shirts with a closed front, (or maybe they just figured out from my cautious replies that I really didn’t have a clue on how to describe clothing in Spanish, or even the basic common pleasantries of the purchasing process), but of course they had both disappeared by the time I had decided on a zip-up grey jacket (a rebeca?) and wanted to buy it. Not that I’m complaining, mind. I’m perfectly aware that this fondness of mine for not having sales clerks waiting on me hand and foot means that sometimes I may have to wait a bit for service, and that’s okay with me.
(So, if anyone in Smith finances asks, reimbolsos are certainly conducive to cultural experiences.)
It was raining again (still?) by the time I finished my shopping trip, but luckily my not-a-winter-jacket has a secret life as a raincoat, so that was okay. And I got home, and the Noodle Mystery Soup left out for my lunch turned out to be of a seafood variety, with everything from shrimp to mussels to calamari. This is something that always surprises me; in the US, I think of calamari as an unusual, special, fancy food, but here it’s just another meat, less common than shrimp but about as common as mussels (which are also more common here than they are in the US, I think).
Food is a good segue into my next two topics, though: Thanksgiving and yesterday’s cooking class.
PRESHCO hosted a Thanksgiving supper for us at one of the fancy restaurants in town, the Casa Rubio. It was not Thanksgiving dinner in more ways than I can shake a stick at, but I had a lot of fun, and they were clearly trying very hard, I have to give them credit for that. Even if it was an evening meal, and we had classes on Thursday as per usual.
To start with, this was an elegant dinner. It was specified as such in the invitation. So the question of What To Wear To Thanksgiving Dinner, which I have never given more than the cursoriest of thoughts while packing a suitcase to head to some family member’s house, became a question of importance. Pepi and Ana took an interest in the matter as well, and I wound up wearing Pepi’s nice red coat because my regular blue one was deemed to be unsuitable. We arrived at the restaurant and were escorted upstairs to a long L-shaped table in a largish L-shaped room (though after sticking the table and chairs into it, there wasn’t all that much space left). At each place setting, there was a red and yellow ribbon, a roll of paper tied with a green and white ribbon, a white carnation with red, blue, and white ribbons, and a straight pin with a small silver filagree hat on one end (a Cordobesan hat with Cordobesan filagree, aparently).
We settled into spots, and Kelly and I had just taken the plunge of opening the rolls of paper, which turned out to be menus, when the program director made a speech welcoming us to “An Andalusian American Thanksgiving.” He went on for a while, asking that we take a moment of silence to reflect upon what we were thankful for, not necessarily a prayer, as we all came from different religions and non-religions, etc. I figured that he was doing pretty well, if a bit long, until he concluded with asking us to remember friends and family who were not there, whether because they were far away or because they were no longer living, which seemed to me like more than a bit of a downer for a Thanksgiving speech. Yes, Thanksgiving is a holiday for family, but I think that most of us have had at least a little bit of a homesick feeling at some point this past week because it’s Thanksgiving and we aren’t going home, and at least in my book, reminding us of this when we’re about to have a big party to celebrate what we are thankful for is more than a little bit of a social faux paus. But I had already gotten over my bout of whiny loneliness, and I wasn’t about to let a poorly chosen speech ruin my enjoyment of this party. And then they played the Spanish national anthem and The Start Spangled Banner, and we stood, and I was too busy thinking how weird that was (and mouthing as much to Kelly across the table, who seemed to fully share my sentiments). And then the first course showed up somewhere about the time when we were discussing the fact that we did not feel that Thanksgiving was a particularly patriotic holiday, even if it is an American-specific one.
Mazamorra is an almond and garlic dish that’s somewhere between gazpacho and salmorejo. I’m quite fond of it when it’s not WAY too salty, and this was good, particularly when we dipped the bread in it.
Berejenas con miel – Eggplant with honey/syrup/molasses
The Spanish have this marvelous deep-fried and breaded eggplant dish which they cover with a thick syrup (the only syrup I’ve seen in Spain, actually, besides the maple syrup that New England Preshquitas always bring as a gift for their host(ess)). There are a few people who don’t like it, but most of us consider it to be absolutely wonderful. This was not my favorite instance of it; rather than looking like they’d dipped the eggplant slices in a thin batter before frying it, this looked almost like they had sliced open balls of dough and stuck eggplant slices inside and then fried them. The general consensus was that they weren’t nearly as good that way, but I still enjoyed them.
Somewhere around this point, Vanessa asked for a bottle of Casera (it’s like Sprite, maybe?) to go with the wine.
Gambas Orly – Shrimp
I don’t know what was up with with their breading process, but the shrimp were also covered in dough like there was no tomorrow, and I found them to generally be pretty flavorless and not worth eating.
This dish did amuse me, however. Perhaps I’ve just spent too much time online. But I couldn’t help reading them as “GAMBAS O RLY?” (the menu was in all caps, which helped). Yeah really, shrimp.*
Panaché de verduras naturales a la plancha – Assorted (?) natural greens/vegetables cooked on both sides
This dish had only limited success. The zuchini was a bit boring, but completely edible. The asparagus had an excellent flavor, but it was a little tough for my taste (I’ve noticed this with other asparagus somewhere else. And that was skinny asparagus that I would’ve thought would be very tender. I don’t know what’s up with the asparagus here.) I was all excited because there was the fan-shaped kind of mushroom that I’ve encountered here and like, but the texture and the flavor was off, and I found it downright gross. The eggplant was pretty sorry, too; they had cooked it enough that it was squishy and hard to cut, but not enough to get rid of the rubberiness.
Vanessa wondered where the casera had gotten to, and if they’d forgotten about it.
Pavo relleno con frutas de otoño, acompañado de patatas duquesas, puré de calabasa y salsa de arándanos – Turkey filled with fruits of autumn, accompanied by duchess potatoes, squash pureé and cranberry sauce
I’m not sure what happened to the duchess potatoes and the cranberry sauce; I certainly never saw hide nor hair of them. The turkey was actually surprisingly close to turkey at home, and the fruits of autumn (which I missed on the first reading of the menu and mistook for some very misguided attempt at cranberry sauce) was made of prunes and garbanzos and pine nuts and maybe raisins or something else, in a sweet reddish-brown sauce. The squash pureé was sweet.
The casera arrived, well over an hour after it had first been requested. And I’m sure that the kitchen was busy making a multi-course meal for over fourty people, but still.
Tarta de calabasa – Pumpkin cake (with ice cream)
We were all excited when we saw this on the menu. As you may have gathered, tarta de calabasa is what Pepi calls pumpkin pie, so we all went, “Yes, pumpkin pie!” (except for Katie and Danielle, who don’t like it. Poor, poor people).
Only it wasn’t. It was cake with squash like icing between thin horizontal slices. The squash wasn’t even sweetened or spiced. Just – squash. And the ice cream was melting, so I hurried and ate it.
Rachel told me later that the cake wasn’t too bad if you ate it with the ice cream, but hey.
Despite all my complaints about the food, the company was excellent, and I had a good time. Carlos, the program director, had been promising “special guests” the whole evening, and special guests turned out to be Carlos in a tunas outfit (I told you about tunas at Salamanca, I think; a music group in 15th century doublets and cloaks who play traditional Spanish music), and a tunas band. There was music and dancing (despite the fact that there was almost no space for it), and the PRESHCO people distributed tamborines and Cordobesan hats, and we had a grand old time. I left fairly soon after the the band did, and that was 12:30 in the morning (de la madrugada), which was early. But then, I had bookbinding class across town at 9:30 yesterday morning, and I wanted to get at least some sleep.
I was going to talk about cooking class, too, but this has gotten really long, so I’ll post on that later. And now to see if the internet can be persuaded to work.
*Yes, I’m perfectly aware that this will make no sense to half of you. But I think that it will amuse the other half. So if you don’t get it, just ignore it and go on to the next bit: The veggies.
There will be pictures later.