We learned a lot of useful things in these classes. They've tried to give us sort of a crash course in customs and traditions here, like when people eat (breakfast: 7 or 8am; before-lunch meal: noon; lunch: around 2 or 3; early evening snacktime: 6pm; and dinner: 9 or 10pm) and when and where it's appropriate to do certain things. Kissing your significant other is appropriate basically anywhere, except for when class is actually in session, or in your parents' house. It's also perfectly acceptable to leave your trash at a bar, because some establishments consider it a mark of popularity: the bar with the most trash has had the most customers. It's never appropriate to put your feet up on a table or chair. That wasn't surprising, but did you know it's also almost never okay to smile in this town? We were told that it is okay to smile in an office, or in your house or a friend's.
I wish someone had told me that sooner. People always tell me I look like I'm unhappy so I try to make an effort to either smile or at least not look angry. I smile at people I pass on the street- or at least, I did. Now whenever I catch myself smiling politely at someone my first reaction is to suck in my face like I've just tasted a lemon. It would be safe to say it's not an attractive look for me.
So part of class yesterday we spent doing our written exams. They asked us to write about our history with the Spanish language and then gave us a couple of situations. I think I probably aced the first situation. Basically the instructions were to write a note to a friend explaining why you have to bail on her when you've already made plans for the evening. I thought it would be a good opportunity to show off my skills as a creative writer, so my note went a little something like this (but in Spanish):
I'm really sorry, but I won't be able to go to Pedro's party with you tonight. I got an invitation to the Oscars, and I will be attending with my boyfriend Michael Phelps (yes, he is an actor too). I'm really sorry and hope you won't hate me forever. Maybe we can make plans for some other time.
When I saw that our teacher would be the one grading them rather than some other teacher, I felt really good about it because she is pretty much obsessed with Michael Phelps. She told us he won more gold medals than this entire country. That's not surprising- worldwide athletic domination does not seem high on Spain's to-do list. So far I have seen one pool that looks like it could maybe be used for laps, but even it was only about 20 yards in length and maybe 3 lanes wide. I see very few fellow runners on the streets or in the parks.
I decided to switch it up a little tonight and went running in the Parque del Oueste, near the IES Center. I didn't pass anyone else running through the park, but I sure did see a lot of kids making out. There were also a lot of dogs. Very few of them were on leashes, and a lot of them were very large. One guy had a couple of labs and a German shepherds all chasing a tennis ball while several other dogs, some of which were strange mixes of things like labs and Great Danes, congregated around him. That sort of worried me a little, but I don't really think the dogs here get much exercise either. Someone should really do something about the number of obese canines in Madrid- and while they're at it, they should make it mandatory for dog owners to clean up after their pets. I've taken care of Pepe enough to know that that is just good etiquette.
Oh so I totally skipped over today- I know Mom at least will want to hear about how my speaking test went. Well, it got off to a not-so-good start- I missed my bus and was almost ten minutes late. So I was power-walking (read: one foot on the ground at all times, legs fully straightened, just like in the Olympics) while my roommates lagged behind me. They were all like, "Nothing you can do about it now," and I was like, "Um. . . I can be less late!" But it turned out all right, because when I finally made it into the classroom, panting and apologizing profusely, my teacher told me it was no problem, because the girl who was supposed to go after me had arrived early and basically switched me. Both the teachers told me not to worry about it, and they were even laughing and handing me papers to fan myself with. Long story short, the exam was no problem, but I feel like my accent was pretty weak.
I walked home because I wanted to take pictures of some of the great graffiti I see every day on my bus ride to school. It might sound cliche, but I really feel like graffiti can be art (besides being vandalism). When it's on the pull-down screens in front of the little shops, you can't see it during business hours, and it looks pretty cool at night.
I snapped 105 pictures, stopped in four shops, and took about an hour and a half to get back to the apartment. I've since trimmed those 105 shots down to fewer than thirty, and some of those are the pictures I've scattered through this post. As you can see, I ended up taking pictures of things other than just graffiti.
I hope everyone enjoys these pictures! When I come home I'm going to print the best ones, and make cd's of them so you can see all of them.
Also, I wanted to add that I appreciate everyone's comments! In response:
1) I don't understand why they can't just come up with some catchy phrase (a catchphrase, if you will), like 'Mind the gap' instead of a confusing picture. I really thought that was the back of the train and this guy was falling off of it or something. There is almost no gap between the trains and the platforms at all, so I hadn't realized it was an issue.
2) It did storm here a few nights ago. There was a lot of rain, and a lot of lightning, and a lot of hail, which apparently is not common here. My teacher said that her little daughter woke up and ran into her room asking, "Is it Ike?!" That is a well-informed 6-year-old. I guess a lot of the people here are not used to storms either, because other students were saying that they couldn't sleep, and they don't usually get lightning at home. I loved it though; I like falling asleep to thunderstorm sounds. Because these other students appear to be wimps when it comes to inclement weather, I was a little bit skeptical of their claims of hail, but I checked the cars parked out on the street, and there are tiny but visible dents from the granizo ( I think that's the word for hail- I never learned it because I never expected to use it).
This weekend, half the IES students are in Valencia. I'm jealous, but those of us who are still in town getting to experience La Noche en Blanco, which I think means to stay up all night or something like that. Basically all the museums will be open all tomorrow night, and the trains will run like they do during the daytime. So I might get a sneak preview of the Prado, or I might try and figure out which of the other museums has the Vermeers, and go there. Maybe I'll sleep, maybe I won't. Then Sunday morning, the plan is to hit up El Rastro, the massive outdoor market Madrid is famous for. Anyone need me to pick them up anything?