by the light of the moon

This weekend was perfect. Perfectly scary, that is!

My fondest memories and strongest reminisences usually revolve around holidays, and more particularly, winter holidays. The stretch between the end of September and the beginning of January is definitely my favorite time of year. Everything grows a little bit darker, a little bit drearier, a little bit colder. The air is crisp (or maybe downright freezing), but homes begin to glow with the light of fires and candles that will keep them warm until the sun comes out again. Maybe it is the superstition and religion regarding this season that fascinates me so much. I love the idea that Halloween is a time when the devil comes to earth, where unholy creatures and the eternally punished come out to play. I love it even more that this holiday is followed closely by Christmas, the birth of the holiest (so say some) being ever to walk the Earth. This contrast, celebrated among an abundance of merrymaking and culinary delights, is unbearably intruiging to me.

It is then only natural that Halloween should be my favorite holiday, rivaled only by Christmas in my feelings of excitement and anticipation. And being here in Santiago where the land is rife with Celtic history and traditions (where Halloween originated so many years ago), I was not about to let this weekend pass by without a lot of festivity.

So on Friday night Stephanie, Daniela and I watched The Shining in the dark with lots of popcorn. I had never seen it before. It was scary, but not as scary as I hoped. Still, it satisfied my craving for a good horror flick, and I kept hearing that creepy voice in my head (“redrum….redrum!!!!”) for hours afterwards.

Saturday I threw a Halloween party. Santiago is surprisingly conducive to Halloween fright. All day Saturday was perfectly dark and rainy, fairly deserted, and a strong wind blew through the trees, whistling eerily in at the cracks in the windows. I woke up early and got to business, after opening the packages that both my parents sent to me. It was like Christmas, and opening the bags of exotic delights like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, M&Ms, and Snickers, I felt like a trick-or-treater all over again. By the time evening rolled around and I was dressed in my fairy costume, I had gone grocery shopping, cleaned the house, decorated with cobweb and streamers, made two pumpkin pies (complete with crust made from scratch), made a batch of chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookies, made apple cider from scratch (with clove-studded oranges), made jello shots and a frozen jello hand, carved two pumpkins and roasted the seeds, and set the table, lit the candles, and set up the music with special Halloween songs. The party was a HUGE success. Everyone dressed up and put real effort into their costumes. They were so excited, since Halloween isn’t huge in Europe. There was a fairy, an angel, a witch, a vampire, two babies, a water siren, a Medusa nymph, a fisherman, a cloud, and a few others. Everyone brought food and we danced and took pictures and laughed at each other’s costumes. That is, until the police broke up the party at about quarter to two. We have an old crochety neighbor who apparently thinks we make a lot of noise (even when we’re just eating dinner), and instead of respectfully knocking on the door and asking us to please quiet down (we weren’t even rowdy – it’s a very low-key group!), she decided to call the police directly. It wasn’t a big deal and they didn’t do anything, but I was angry nonetheless. So we moved the party outside. We went barhopping (in full costume) and thoroughly enjoyed the strange looks we got when we walked into bars with wings and capes and leaf crowns. When I got home early in the morning, I climbed into bed exhausted but happy and sufficiently satisfied.

Today I spent the whole day doing nothing. I woke up late, cleaned up the kitchen and the remains of last night’s raucousness, and spent the afternoon talking with my flatmates, wearing my recently-arrived favorite brown sweater, and eating leftover party snacks. It was perfect, the way Halloween should be.

(And since Monday and Tuesday are holidays in Spain, I get to do it all over again tomorrow!)

under umbrellas

It has been five weeks since I arrived here in Santiago.

The weather has turned cold and gray, and the rain came one day and never left. The streets, though dark and dismal under cloudy skies, are nevertheless brightened by the sights of hundreds of umbrellas open against the rain. All colors and sizes, they pass along the streets; with their owners’ faces hidden below, they look as if they move of their own free will, like jellyfish or anemones. And it is perilous to go about on these days; one must risk a caught sleeve, a poked eye, or a sidewalk traffic jam, all generally caused by the little old ladies that walk at a snail’s pace in the middle of the road.

The leaves, too, fall from the trees, but without the usual luster and fanfare of a good Midwestern autumn. There will be no apple picking this year, no Indian corn or apple cider doughnuts, no hayrides or bonfires. I hate missing my favorite time of year. As a small consolation, I will be throwing a Halloween party on Saturday, complete with pumpkin pie, apple cider, costumes, and frozen gelatin hands.

That is, if they have gelatin at the grocery store. Spanish stores are very strange about the things they carry, and going shopping is always an adventure for me. For example, it is next to impossible to find dental floss, and the kind that is occasionally available rips apart between your teeth, making it completely and utterly useless. It is also impossible to find turkey meat; they carry a few kinds of turkey cold cuts, but raw turkey meat does not exist here. Where do the cold cuts come from, then? Eggs and milk are NEVER sold refrigerated, which still creeps me out a little, but yogurt and cheese are. Celery is extremely hard to find, and don’t even try to bother with cranberries. Cranberries and blueberries have the same name here, if that gives you any idea of how little they care about these fruits. All other berries are referred to as frutas del bosque, or forest fruits. A name like that makes raspberry yogurt sound way more exotic than it really is. Philadelphia cream cheese is just called queso Philadelphia, as if that name clearly explains what it is you are buying. I was ecstatic to find cheddar cheese last week, because most cheeses are white and involve complex curing processes that you would rather not know about (one common type is wrapped in laurel leaves and then buried in cow manure for extended periods of time…yummmm). My Italian roommates have to take a bus to find good mozzarella. But there are still about 500 different varieties of cheeses to choose from, and about 1,000 different varietes of yogurt and pudding. Whereas in the U.S. yogurt is usually squished between the shredded cheese and the orange juice somewhere, in Spain yogurt has its very own refigerated wall. There are strange kinds of yogurt too, like cuajada, which is something between a yogurt and a cottage cheese that comes from sheep. It tastes the way you imagine it would, unless a lot of sugar is added. It is always sold in little earthenware pots, which makes me wish I liked it so that I could buy a few. Coke is always sold in glass bottles, and the people swear it tastes better that way. They are probably right.

Today was fiesta in Santiago. This means three things: 1) No one will really know what we are celebrating, though many will assume it has something to do with Christopher Columbus. 2) The celebration of said Columbus means that everyone ought to go out and party (i.e. get drunk). 3) Because of aforementioned partying on the night prior to said fiesta, none of the stores will be open today, meaning that nothing of any importance will get done. But no one really cares, because it is fiesta.

I spent the day doing a lot of nothing, which included having my German flatmate make me German pancakes for dinner. I like fiesta days.

Later, not knowing what to do on a post-fiesta evening, we wandered around town, while I marveled at how wonderful Santiago is. We visited the Alameda at night, which is just as amazing and beautiful as the Alameda by day. In the wide lamplit paseo, overshadowed by leaf-laden trees, a lone couple stood hugging, the man in a black coat and the woman in a red one. The leaves in the wind fell softly around them, creating a romantic scene that would have looked perfect in a photograph, had I brought a camera. I hadn’t. We strolled past them quietly, along the paseo, where the cathedral stood out above the city, dimly lit yet sparkling, and the little town glittered below it, asleep for the night.

The cathedral never ceases to amaze me. I stare and stare, and never get tired of seeing it, of tracing its outlines high above the city, of hearing its bells toll the hour. I never get tired of the cobblestone streets, the wrought-iron lamps, the gargoyles. I never get tired of white stuccoed houses with red Spanish tile roofs and green windowsills, pink flowers spilling over the balconies and creeping through the ironwork. I never get tired of the thick-trunked trees, the sky, the hills. I never get tired of being here.

On our walk, we passed the tourist restaurants with lavish and intricate window displays of plump purple octopus, fat silvery fish, piles of pink langostinos, legs of ham heavy with thick red meat around white bone. Some of the restaurants have lobster tanks in the windows where, pincers clasped, the poor creatures gaze bug-eyed at the passersby, climbing over mossy rocks and awaiting their demise. In one of the windows, several lobsters and crabs were piled together in an indistinguishable mass of shells and antennae and legs. They climbed over and around each other, indifferent to the struggling bodies beneath them. We watched them, fascinated, their shells covered in algae and small growths, oblivious. Suddenly one of the crabs pressed itself up against the glass, feelers flicking rapidly beneath its shell. As we watched, it slowly spread its six legs and pincers across the glass in a clear and unmistakable salute to us. It was the most personality I’d ever seen in a crab, and this one was definitely seeking attention. In its sideways saunter, it made its way across the side of the tank, balancing delicately on tiny claws over the heads of the others. We laughed ourselves silly.

some things

Thing 1. My German roommate gave me a present yesterday because it’s a tradition in Germany to give children gifts of school supplies on their first days of school. She gave me stickers, pencils, alphabet ice cube trays (definitely my favorite), a notebook, and candy – because today was my first day of school, too. How cute is that?

Thing 2. Every day I love Santiago more. I feel as if it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so at home in a place, even…at home. It’s got everything – it’s got a rich history and a monument that brings pilgrims from all over the world, it’s got a modern side with all the comforts of city living (I sound like a brochure), it’s got La Alameda, one of the prettiest parks I’ve seen, it’s got the old side of town with its tiny bars and coffeeshops, it’s got pine trees AND palm trees, rain and blue skies, it’s close to Coruna but far enough to retain its smallish town atmosphere. And I keep discovering things about it that make me even happier, like the fact that every Wednesday, people come from all over Galicia to trade livestock and farm fowl on the outskirts of town. In a word, I love it here.

Thing 3. My roommates regularly make me homemade Italian pizza and pasta, and on Saturday they made gnocchi by hand. I’m going to learn to make tiramisu soon, and I’m making a tortilla espanola tomorrow. I don’t know if it’s just the amount of fresh markets here or if it’s because I’m on my own, but I’ve gotten really into cooking lately and am looking forward to being able to stun my American visitors (hint hint) with exotic European delicacies.

Thing 4. I had my first day of work today. I am now working for three different places, and also starting to arrange private English lessons. I taught a class of 3 children at Christian’s house, the German professor who is opening a language academy and whose children already speak four languages at the ages of 7 and 9. Then I taught two adults at the other academy down the street from my apartment. I don’t like teaching children as much as adults but I like going to the house because it is a beautiful house with a garden, a view of the city, and a cat. It makes me feel like I have a surrogate family here, even though they are a little bit crazy. Also, they live a half-hour walk away and at the top of a steep hill, so I get some exercise every time I go there. It is also nice to know that I am now earning money and being somewhat productive in the world. Contributing to the good of society, if you will.

Thing 5. I finally got around to taking some more photos of Santiago, so I will post them to Shutterfly within the next few days. I hope to send out an email about this, but I now have my own Shutterfly website, so instead of having to email you every time I take new pictures, you can check back to this site whenever you want and see what I’ve added. The link is:

http://jlostinspain.shutterfly.com

Visit it!