17 October 2011

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido

"The people, united, will never be defeated."

[I wrote this right after the 15O protests, and am publishing it on 7 Nov 2011.  The last few weeks, with continued politics in Europe deriving from and influencing the credit crisis, and notable events in Oakland, CA, only confirm to myself what I've written and thought about this already.]

For the last few days, I've been thinking about how to discuss Saturday night in such a way so as to share what I did and why, and also to respect the possibly divergent views some of my loyal readers might have.  Then today, the NYT Architecture critic Michael Kimmelman gave me the answer:
It's something I've internalized for the last 10 or so years of my life, and the idea of "the European social compact" is something I've been thinking about intensely for the last few months (because a lot of my life is balancing between European and American social contracts) without knowing exactly how to verbalize it. 

I remember when we first moved to Rome, 11 years ago - back then people were angry about most of the same things, but it was a more anti-corporate vibe, whereas now it's a much more anti-banks, anti-financial institutions vibe, and one that seems to me to be more accurately placed.  Simply speaking, if I want a cell phone or computer or most other consumer goods without making things really difficult for myself, I've got to get them from some huge multinational corporation, so choices have to be made and usually the market supports that.  On the other hand, the sort of actions banks and other financial institutions have been making over the last 30+ (100+, 500+) years has helped us get to that point while they have stolen money from just about everyone possible - us, and the governments they bought that are supposed to also represent us.

Anyway, I remember when I saw my first march of ~20,000 communists walking down Via Barberini (strange place for a march, I know, but that's where they were that day) and I almost peed my pants, I was so scared because I thought, "Oh no! The communists! And there's so many of them!"  Meanwhile, other people around paid no attention and went about with their business - and in the last 11 years, communists have not taken over Italy or anywhere else, really - not a threat, and yet the fight continues.  Then September 11 happened and I remember standing in Piazza del Popolo around significantly fewer members of Italy's right wing parties in solidarity with the USA (a strange experience, mostly because of the creepster neo-Fascists present), and a few years after that, I demonstrated for peace in Oakland (before Schenley Plaza was built and gained notoriety during the G20) and Central Park, and then the great Rally to Restore Sanity on the Mall in DC, and Kimmelman's point is proved.  These spaces are integral to our public conversation.

Yesterday, in Palma, I had a cortado (read: espresso macchiato) while sitting on a bench the Passeig de Born.  A few hours later, it would be filled with 20,000+ people who were united for #globalchange, and then, just a few hours after that, back to normal again.  Nothing got broken, no one got harrassed - back to that old European social contract.  

The other important part of the social contract is an inherent respect for others -- the communists present did not beat up on the socialists over the differences they may have on the distribution of wealth.  Folks recognize what they have in common, and get together to help make a step in the direction of the world they want to live in, myself included.  These demonstrations are not monoliths, they're many different groups of people who get together to help each other make their voices even louder.

The atmosphere was pretty much a party, because of the Drums for Peace, which also set a rhythm for the march, there were songs and dancing and it was a warm, autumnal Saturday evening so we were all out for a nice walk!  But do not misunderstand a party-like atmosphere for this being taken lightly - except there's so much to celebrate: our humanity, being alive, being together, and our shared convictions.  Spain has gotten plenty of practice lately in this sort of thing, because of and from the 15M movement -- and in a lot of ways, this was an extension of that, because the problems have still yet to receive an adequate solution and so truth must continue to be spoken to power.  This demonstration had it all - the communists, socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, grandmothers, kids in strollers, middle-aged folks blowing whistles and some awesome Adbusters-inspired street theatre weaving through the crowds.  As public buses passed, drivers honked in solidarity, causing us all to make sure the driver could hear our thanks.  Now might also be a good time to add that there were posters for this demonstration at both of the schools where I teach, and I actually ran into a colleague there!  So, this is not a movement of a bunch of hippies - it's people who look like you and me, who work for an honest living, and who actively participate in the democratic process.

There were some great slogans and chants, again, many carried over from 15M, and responding to the huge amounts of money that is being siphoned away from taxpayers everywhere, as we're coming to find out.  For example: "No hay pan por tanto chorizo [there's not bread for so much chorizo, meaning thievery in addition to sausage]" and "Manos arriba, esta es un atraco [hands up, this is a robbery]!" And another: "Si no nos dejan soñar, no os dejaremos dormir [If you won't let us dream, we won't let you sleep]".  And another: "Protesta como un ciudidano o calla como un servo [Protest like a citizen or shut up like a servant]".

The police were pretty unobtrusive and mostly were there to serve as traffic cops, but as we were walking from Plaça Rei Joan Carle I up the Avinguda Jaume I, I realized real fast what a terrorizing tactic kettling could be.  I think my American experiences (seeing mounted police, riot police, plain clothes police - thankfully only using intimidation tactics when I've been present) made me way edgier than 99% of the people there, and I was jealous of that -- how wonderful that so many families were there with small children, so many older people walking with canes, and so obviously unworried about any potential violence -- there's our social contract again, that the police are there to protect the demonstrators, not others from the demonstrators.

"I too am indignant, like my mom and my dad."

Towards the end of the march, we, following one of the themes of the march to "toma el calle [take the streets]" we sat down on the pavement in the street for a while, then got up and ended with a rally of sorts in Plaça Espanya, where I got to see the street theatre up close:
Adbusters-inspired street theatre, with actors representing various negative aspects of capitalism (military spending, education cuts, etc) being pushed in shopping carts by zombie televisions

After getting some real, cut-with-scissors-and-weighed-by-an-Italian pizza a taglio, I was able to catch the end of the ball de bot across the street in the Parc de ses estacions.  There, the castellers were grilling meats on public grills, with public tongs chained to said grills.  A European socialist paradise, indeed!

16 October 2011

The Price of Water

I'm hard at work preparing two posts about Saturday, which will be finished as soon as my videos upload to YouTube.  In the meantime, a quick thought about price fluctuations and/or comparison shopping in real life, because I've never been anywhere where the differences were so obvious.

Here, it's recommended to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, because there is so much calcium in the tap water -- it's nothing bad, in fact it could be quite good, and I use the bottled water mostly for coffee.  One jug lasts me a week.

But since I live in tourist central, buying something as simple as 6L of water is a classic situation of supply, demand and convenience.  Between my house and work, there's a Lidl - a European discount grocery store very similar to Aldi - where I buy most of my groceries.  However, it's a bike ride away and I try to maximize what I can carry with me in my backpack and on the bike rack - water would take up too much space and weight.  In the basement of my building, there's a Spar - basically, a convenience store, and about a block down the street, a larger, independently-owned-but-catering-to British-tourists small grocery store.  Up and down my street, there are about 5 or 6 Spars.

All three of these waters are bottled from two places here in Mallorca. 
On the left, purchased at the Spar in my building, 5L of water for €1.98.
In the middle, purchased down the street, 6L of water for €0.99.
On the right, purchased farther down the street on the main road, 1.5L of water for €1.50 - same water as the one on the left.

Sometimes, the stuff at the place down the street is less, or the same price as Lidl.  I buy my coffee and a few other things in Palma because I've had to be there for something else and it was convenient and less expensive to grocery shop there than ride my bike farther to other normal-priced grocery stores nearby. 

This isn't about bottled water being fancy, nor is it about how easy it could be to rip off tourists - it's mostly about how sometimes, bulk is cheaper and there are questions of convenience involved.  The same goes for the type of cream I use in my coffee, the baguettes I buy for bread, and the ready-made gazpacho that's so refreshing and healthy; it's just been a long time since I can remember being somewhere where the differences in price were so considerably obvious. 

04 October 2011

Fira d'Alcúdia

Wow, what a way to have a first experience of this town!

The annual fair of Alcúdia was this weekend, and when I saw 'ball de bot' on the schedule for tonight + determined what it was, I was sold.  The event overall is a fair with artisans, local products and food in a bucolic, perfectly Mediterranean-textured historic town with undulating tufa walls and majolica street signs.

I can't find my thingy to get the pics off of my camera, so I'm going to have to edit this post to add pictures...

After walking around a bit, I decided I was hungry enough to grab some tapas, and I got some frito mallorquín - a classic meat and potatoes dish, with fennel greens and roasted red peppers.  As I was eating it, I was having a hard time determining the meat, because there was a lot of liver texture happening, but not every piece was liver-y (and it was really well-cooked liver - it's a fine line).  Turns out, the recipe calls for both lamb and lamb liver, so I was half right.  I washed this goodness down with a beer and continued to enjoy walking around, also waiting for the dancing to start.

Reading up on this, I realized I missed els gegants - these massive puppets that I saw around the square - apparently they make them dance too!

But really the highlight of the evening was the dancing.  Though my girl Emma never actually said it, "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution."  Tonight reminded me of seeing the sardanes in Barcelona, except with better music, and also of many nights singing and dancing in the Carpathians, because there I'm able to participate more naturally.  Any planned spontaneous expression of folk culture is so authentic and vibrant -- I cried watching this tonight, it was so amazing.  Besides the good boleros and happy people, the greatest thing was that authentic folk culture was articulated through dance, in a popular and natural format.  Like doing the sardanes or čardaš, how better to assert identity and 'advertise' traditional cultures, especially as a minority, than with dance?

The ball de bot is like a flash mob every time a dance starts -- people mill around the square clicking their castanets and then the music starts up and immediately a graceful pool of movements begins.  It's a bit like kolo dancing maybe, as you don't have to have a partner, but you can, and it's circles of all ages, kids learning by watching and joining in, and lots of people absolutely grinning from ear to ear with obvious pleasure: 

Sometimes they line up in rows, sometimes they're in circles - either way, there's plenty of opportunity to witness authentic electricity firing around among the dancers.

Right as I was leaving they busted out the bagpipes, shame I didn't catch more of them.

01 October 2011

Some Pittsburgh food pr0n

Based on the feedback I get about my blog, it would seem that food-related posts are favorites among my loyal readers.  The other day I had a really cool baked thing with greens on top, but I didn't write down what it was called and at the time I was so hungry I just wanted to snarf it all up.  But before I left Pittsburgh, I had some notably good Pittsburgh meals that I'll share, because they were that good

My aunt Carmen's brother from Tijuana once told me that you know a taco stand is good based on how many dogs there are nearby - I assume he was only partly joking.  While there are no dogs circling Reyna's Taco Shack, for Pittsburgh it's about as authentic as it probably could be; at the very least, it's ridiculously fresh, cooked in front of you.
Here was my taco from 1 September 2011, a gorgeous day in Pittsburgh for eating al fresco on Penn Avenue:
I forget what meats I got, but what's important is the mountain of fresh cilantro, fresh squeezed lemon, and homemade tortilla.

The tacos were basically an appetizer, because then I walked down to Wholey's and decided I was still hungry, especially when I saw Luke Wholey's Grill.  I love grilled fish. This is a great deal: fish, rice, veggies, topped with sriracha!:

One of the best things about being born towards the end of September is that my birthday coincides with Oktoberfest.  Where better to acquire this seasonal nectar of the gods than Penn Brewery?  Recently on Facebook I saw they were making Reuben pierogies - while I'm not a huge Reuben fan, I heart my pirohy, so that was one of the foods on my birthday lunch menu, along with BBQ Pork fries and Fish and Chips pierogies.  Scotch eggs were a possibility, but you've got to be discerning so as not to keep the ratio of dead pigs per meal vs. cholesterol number as low as possible.

Fish and chips pierogies - the cole slaw was tasteless and thus disappointing.

Fries topped with pulled BBQ pork - it was my birthday!

Reuben pierogies - corned beef and cheese inside, rye seeds in the dough, and topped with sauerkraut and Thousand Island

I love the building and my birthday was another gorgeous Pittsburgh day.

A sign I might still have a bit of jetlag:

... I was wondering why that one flip flop felt unusual.

Minorities: Can't Get Away!

My head is still a little screwy and so sometimes when I intend to respond in Spanish, I end up answering in my bad Slovak/Rusyn mix with some Italian thrown in.  The local idiom is Mallorquín, a dialect of Catalan -- one notable difference is in gendered pronouns, but there are other differences as well.  Being here is similar to being in Prešov - you can walk into a café and hear people speaking among themselves in their own language, and then they unquestioningly accommodate when you (have to) speak to them in the National language.

Of course, because this is Europe, language is mega-tied-up with identity.  And, I live in a town that caters mostly to Brits.   One of the benefits of this is that it's possible to get a cider on tap, and so this week when I walked into a local establishment for a Strongbow, I got to meet Al the Welsh Barkeep -- whose grandkids in Wales don't even speak English yet and there is happiness that Wales is more autonomous than it once was.

It's really super cool to be somewhere where everyone already understands and enjoys and benefits on a system-wide level from being a minority.  This doesn't mean that all Spaniards are all completely happy with this, though.  My landlady is from the mainland and speaks Català as a second language and is definitely of the opinion that while it is very important to know and speak Català here, it's also really important to speak Castellano well, too.  Fine with me -- more and, not either or.

Hopefully this is a topic that I can keep coming back to as this experience continues.

One result of fracking

I spotted this at the Sideling Hill rest stop on the PA Turnpike on our way to the airport:

Most likely safe?  How about we at least regulate fracking better?  And Pennsylvanians, be sure to carry matches to the bathroom with you!
Reasons to suspect contamination include the following symptoms: headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, itchy skin and kidney failure.


How to do what I'm doing

Folks who have been reading my blog for a while may remember what I had to do in Slovakia in order to be there legally, and this whole process hearkens back to the ordeal we had to go through (though me, not so much) in order to be in Italy legally.  I’m writing this because I found some blogs helpful when I was in the Auxiliares de conversación application processes, and maybe some people are just wondering how I get to do things like move to Mallorca, so I’ll start from the beginning. 

Disclaimer: This is not any sort of legal advice, this is just me sharing my experience, so your use of this information is entirely at your own risk.  Seriously.

Part First: The Application
I found out about this whole program (Auxiliares de conversación) rather serendipitously via a vague comment on a friend’s status update on Facebook.  There was enough information there for me to google it and find out exactly what the program was, and find the application and everything.  The application is really pretty extensive, but also standard job application stuff – most of it is online, and it’s multi-part and in Spanish.  Then you have to print that out and include other documentation, like your FBI record, university transcripts, doctor’s note and statement of purpose.  Getting all of that together was a bit discouraging and almost caused me to not apply, to be honest.  The good news is that some of it comes in handy later, sort of, so once things are gathered once, you’ve got them.  All of this gets mailed to a regional office depending on where you live.  Then you wait, being nervous about your application number according to when you submitted, etc.

Here's a message board that can be helpful, but you sort of have to sift through the info to get quality in the midst of hysteria. When everyone’s waiting and offers start being made, they start to fire up. 

Part Second: The Offer
On the Profex application site, you get a status called ajudicada, and this is how you accept the position.  Then you get a letter from your region, which is a critically important document for your visa and NIE card, so keep the original!  That letter also tells you where you’ll be teaching.

To follow up on the message boards, someone in my region also set up a Facebook group, which has been maybe more helpful because it’s more specific, and uses people’s names instead of just usernames on the boards.  I’ve been able to friend some people who will be in the same area as I will be.

Part Third: The Visa Application
I was in Europe for most of the summer, and in the long run, it would’ve probably been cheaper and nicer and easier to stay there until it was time to go to Mallorca.  But you have to apply for the visa from wherever you’re a resident/citizen, and then to a regional office based on where you live.  Interesting note here: I sent my application to Washington, DC, but had to go to the consulate in New York City for my visa appointment.  You should pretty much apply for a visa appointment the second you get your placement letter in the mail.  I frantically e-mailed the Ministry of Education representative at the consulate and he was a big help – pretty much this is someone you want to be in contact with, if for nothing other than reassurance.

The visa application is also where the costs start to add up, on top of the $140 visa fee (remember, often these fees are reciprocally priced).  The New York consulate accepted a State Police record (easier and quicker to get than the FBI record check – which also costs a nominal fee), and because of the appointment I had at the consulate I had to pay for overnight mailing both ways and a courier service, which is a bit expensive, because you must get the Hague Apostille and that is a big PITA. Then there are the little bits, like the passport-sized photos (which I always do myself with my own digital camera, Photoshop, and Target, also good to DIY so you can make the European passport-sized photos in the USA) and extra copies of various documents, doctor’s visit for more recent certification of health, the pre-paid UPS envelope, and in my case, bus tickets to New York City.  Mostly because I had to rush the Apostille thing for my background check, this whole part of the process, including travel, cost around $400 – not something I want to flaunt but to let people know for practical reasons, because I didn’t really know or think about this aspect of it as I was going through the process myself.

Then again, a wait, to get your passport with shiny visa back.  The nice woman at the consulate was able to tell me when my visa would be issued, which meant that I knew from when I could buy my plane ticket.  One way to Palma via Barcelona!

Part Fourth: The Arrival
I got to Palma alright, and since I had a large suitcase and backpack and have never been here before, I took a taxi across the island (about 40 minutes or so by car) from the airport to Port d'Alcudia.  I had made arrangements at the Hostal Vista Alegre for 4 nights.  I found it in the Lonely Planet Spain: Balearic Islands e-book, which said that the hostel was "pokey" but "tidy".  My room faced the marina, which was excellent, but the shared bathroom was clean but one of the most annoying I've ever had to use.  They also offered me a room with a private bath, but without the view -- I'd rather be inconvenienced with the bathroom but have the view, I guess.  I'd stay there again, just in one of the doubles they have that apparently have a view and private bath.  You just can't beat the price in this area.

Here's what my view was like there:

Jet lag really got me, and I had arrived exhausted anyway, so I slept the first day.  It was really difficult to find unlocked wireless networks anywhere, and I needed to get a SIM card for my phone, so I went to Palma to pick up one -- quite unnecessary but I wanted to see how the buses worked.  I went to Palma again Friday, thinking I'd be able to go for my appointment for my documentation, but I got a bit disoriented and wasn't able to find out where to go until it was already a bit late.  So I walked around Palma, found where I'll probably buy a used bicycle, and did some housewares shopping for a few things I needed for the apartment.

Part Fifth: House Hunters International
One of my colleagues had sent me a few phone numbers, and I had found one local agent online beforehand.  Getting an apartment was a huge priority, because not only did I want to get settled, but the hostel bathroom was starting to get to me.  Hot water here seems to be either cold or scalding and so unless there's a trick or it depends on the time of day, taking a shower isn't quite as pleasant as I'd prefer it to be.

After making 4 phone calls from the list my colleague sent, and talking to the agent, I made appointments to see 3 apartments -- just like House Hunters International!  

The first was with the agent, for a studio in a resort condo complex. 
It had a newly-renovated kitchenette (but rather shoddily done) and new paint job (also sloppy looking).  The building was all-condo and had a doorman only during the day.  It faced south and had a view of S'Estany Gran, a large estuary, and the sea.

The second was with a private owner, for a studio in a different building in the same complex.
It had all new appliances, more sleeping space, and a building-wide wifi system already in place.  The owner had lived in this apartment for many years and it had many details that made it feel more homey and designed, somehow.  The building was part hotel, part condo and had a 24 hour doorman. It faced north and had a view of the Cap del Pinar and Cap de Formentor.

Both studios had a balcony, TV/DVD, washing machine and microwave, the same layout, and differently themed yet equally tacky main lobbies.  The first one was €25 less per month than the second, but also included a half month's rent for the agent's fee, and I'd have to have the internet installed myself, it seemed.

The third one I ended up not even looking at because while the location was in some ways much, much better than the first two, it was too big (= expensive) for one person.

Can you guess which one I picked?

... ... ...

I went with the slightly more expensive but much nicer second studio!

Here's a floorplan of it I made:

Because I just had one suitcase, moving in was kind of quick.  There are a lot of large-ish convenience stores nearby catering to the self-catering tourist crowd, but I haven't gotten to do a real grocery shopping yet because I don't have a bicycle yet.

Coming soon:
Part Sixth: Getting Legal