Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Semanas Catorce a Dieciseis: The Final Moments

29 April ~ 22 May 2011

I was robbed the other week—yup, you heard right. My time with my iPhone, which I had only possessed for a mere five months, had apparently expired. I’m not proud to reveal how said action occurred, but to be frank, I was outwitted by a ten-year old. In my defense, I would like to believe he had some kind of formal training—a klepto apprentice, if you will. The fact is, being duped by a child does something to a person… it really does.

So here is the full story: I was sitting outside of Dunkin Coffee studying French…in Spain…and was using my phone as a paperweight for the stack of flashcards I was making. The flashcards were at most seven inches away from me when this dirty young boy approached me with a cardboard sign with some black scribble on it. This is nothing new in Spain as there are always people, mainly the Senegalese men trying to sell you knock-off sunglasses and watches, pestering you when sitting outside. Like I was always do, I shook my head and said no, and continued to work. Ten minutes later when I was packing up, I had realized what had happened: that scumbag low-life loser put his sign over my stuff, and used the hand not holding the sign to grab my phone and slide it back to himself when he pulled back his sign. I mean, you could have at least given me my SIM card. And, if you’re reading this—from my phone—would you like the charger seeing that I have no need for it now?

After I packed up my things, I went on a wild goose chase through the alleyways of Granada with bulging crimson eyes and a little bit of steam spewing from my ears. I had absolutely zero qualms about linebacker-tackling a child in public—none. But let’s get even further into the ingeniousness of it all; it was a holiday in Spain, Día de la Cruz, and there were thousands of kids everywhere! After nearly an hour of hopeless circling, I gave up and went to Lauren and Ashley’s for emotional support. Only Ashley was home, but she let me use her laptop to temporarily suspend my account so whoever now owned my phone couldn’t make calls or use data and rack up a dizzying phone bill.

As would be expected, an awkward moment regarding the aforementioned catastrophe would follow. It was roughly 2 am the night my phone departed, and I was nearly asleep. I was still in limbo and could hear what was going on in the apartment. I could hear Tina informing Rosa and José about my phone situation—not only the fact that it was stolen, but I had no alarm clock now—when I hear footsteps nearing my door. I knew José was going to come in so, I leaped up and began throwing on my t-shirt and dorm shorts, the latter never making it on before he knocked and walked in. “¿Estabas dormiendo? Were you sleeping?Like an idiot, I said “no….” as if he couldn’t see the internet alarm I had found that was set on my laptop, and a completely dark room with me holding my shorts in place like they were on. If this was not awkward already, when Rosa and Tina both poked their heads in around José’s body, it most certainly was—me, half-dressed, face-to-face with all three roommates with a prevailing uncomfortable silence that could kill.

Thankfully, there was a pizza party at Patrick’s to lighten up the rather awful week. We ordered 100- euros worth of pizza like the lot of fatties that we are and tried to decide upon a movie. At one point, I thought we had all agreed, with the exception of myself, on a horror movie in Spanish—great, the last thing I want is to be scared shitless AND not understand what is even being said. It turned out to be Shutter Island in English to my great fortune. What is with all of Leo’s latest movies having to be seen twice to understand what the hell just happened? –Just a random thought.

This next part might be a bit graphic for some of you, so if you want, skip to the next paragraph, but I need to let the world know this. I had a bit of a bad bowel movement the other night; there was blood. Sometimes I have a bit of blood every once in a while, but never this much. It was no big deal until the morning after. I decided to wear my new white shorts to class the next day and every single time I felt a bit of gas coming, I panicked and tried my absolute hardest not to let it pass. The only thing I could envision was somehow causing blood to come out again, and seep through my thin white shorts. I did not want to look as if I had just somehow had a period. I've been trying to keep my uterus a secret.

One night, when I was just bumming for company, I went to Lizzie’s. I was standing in the kitchen when I could vaguely hear Adele’s “Turning Tables.” I just assumed Valerie was jamming out in her room, which is, to be fair, roughly on the opposite side of their kitchen wall. I had mentioned to Lizzie that I could hear her music and we both had our ears up to the wall listening. We then began to try and freak her out by punching the wall and raking it with our fingernails. We then wandered into Lizzie’s room, where I could then hear Pitbull and Ne-Yo’s “Give Me Everything.” That’s odd. I then just said it must have been her upstairs neighbor the whole time. I clearly remember standing by her door looking up at the ceiling and saying “Yup, it’s your upstairs neighbor, I can hear it clear as day right here.” I walked over to her bed to sit down and she remarked that the music “seems to be moving.” Nothing caught my attention more than when I next heard Zoe Badwi’s “Freefallin.” Zoe is an Australian artist I came across on the Internet, and I found it too much of coincidence that all of these songs were on my iPod as well. I reached into my cargo pocket where I discovered my iPod blaring at full blast on shuffle. Whoops. Can you spell r-e-t-a-r-d?

Sadly, my days in Granada were winding down. I could not believe how quickly four months had managed to fly by. I don’t remember many details from these final moments as I got lazy with my blog note-taking, but because I was spending every moment taking it all in for one last hoorah. I remember having another rendezvous with Ariel’s cousin again; she was deported from Italy and needed a place to go. I don’t recall exact details for the deportation, but I’m suspecting they were mafia-related.

Oh yeah, I had my 21st birthday during my final days. It was an absolute disaster. Well, it was fun, before I fell asleep for two-and-a-half hours clinging to the porcelain god. That was…a blast (no pun intended). Normally, 21st birthdays aren’t a cause for extra celebration in Europe since they crawl out of the womb alcoholics, but I had my caring circle of American pals that ensured it was a celebration. You would think it would have been the burning Absinthe shot I took that put me up over the edge after roughly four mixed drinks, a couple of apple schnapps shots, and a beer, but no, it was the rum and Coke I had nearly an hour and a half later; thank you for that again, Lauren. The next thing I knew, I was sitting outside the club on the sidewalk trying to make my world not do summersaults. At some point, Valerie began entertaining us with a dazzling story about Gandalf and the stick, not to be confused with Harry Potter.

                                                         Some point later...

Knowing the day after my 21st would most likely be a pounding, nauseating affair, I somehow, by the grace of all of the world’s gods, to pack my suitcases three days before I left. I was reviewing Air Berlin’s baggage policy when I came across this…interesting rule: “The following articles may only be carried in checked baggage: toy guns and commercially available toys that could be used as a weapon.” Hmmm…I really don’t believe you can club someone to death with a squirt gun—or! Oh, no! What if someone holds up the plane with a Nerf gun?!

My flight home was a bit stupid—well, I was stupid for booking it. I had not even realized I booked a flight that left Málaga Sunday afternoon and arrived in Berlin Sunday night for a twelve hour layover. In the U.S. I wouldn’t think twice about potentially spending the night in the terminal outside of my gate, but such initially seemed impossible in Berlin. I had arrived around nine Sunday evening and my flight to New York left at ten the following morning. I went to the gate my flight was supposed to leave from, but there was a passport check station before you could even enter the gate. I then decided to do a lap around the terminal to find a place to camp out to find, there wasn’t any. What the hell am I going to do? I asked a lady at one of the check-in counters, who was getting ready to leave, if the terminal was open all night. She told me it was not, but terminal D was. “Ok, great. Thanks” She looked rather puzzled, but I made my way over to the adjacent terminal.

This was just awesome might I add…sitting…waiting…alone…in the empty terminal with ten-and-a-half hours to go until my connecting flight. I even kept a log of my mind-numbingly boring night:

10:50p: Watching the night man on his squeegee machine washing the floor.

10:57p: The cleaning man just ran into the airport directory sign on his machine…quite funny.

11:01p: Discovered I have Bejeweled Blitz on my laptop! Mildly entertaining!

11:50p: Done with Bejeweled. I now have company: a drunk who is walking laps, two other passengers waiting patiently, and what I thought were two more drunks might just be two hobos because I am currently watching the one dig through the trash.

11:57p: And now there is a lost Asian man wandering aimlessly with his luggage cart.

1:01a: Finished an epic doodle. One passenger must feel unsafe sleeping with us, which may explain why he is now sleeping behind the ticket counter.

1:25a: Can’t possibly do anything else. I’m going to attempt sleeping.

4:45a: Just finished taking nearly 16-18 fifteen minute naps since comfort was not available on these metal chairs. Off to my terminal to the Starbucks until boarding.  

Un saludo,


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Semana Trece: Lisbon the Plagiarizer

22 April ~ 28 April 2011

I was finally bullied into going to Portugal through the passive-aggressive tactics of Lizzie and Emily. For those that are geographically challenged, Portugal is the small, random entity attached to Spain, much like the state of Delaware to the U.S. Despite Portuguese being a romance language, it sounds nothing like one; it sounds more-or-less like German or Russian. And let me just say, Lisbon is totally stealing multiple chapters out of San Fran’s book, and is getting away with it: street cars, a golden gate bridge, hilly terrain with steep-angled streets, and proximity to water. If I were to plagiarize, I’d get a zero on the assignment and have a botched school record so, I would like to see some sort of punishment exercised on Lisbon.

Lemurs are awesome.

To start the final voyage of my semester, I took a bus from Granada to Sevilla where the gang had already been for a few days. As soon as I arrived, Lizzie and Emily met me and we sprinted to T.G.I. Friday’s which I had been fantasizing about for some weeks. As a food junkie, leaving all of your accustomed foods takes a toll, and as the weeks have creep on, the more and more you drool for all of the things you can’t have. I started making a list for the things I need in the car ready for me when I get off the plane (Shelby be prepared) and other places I’ll need to visit in the ensuing days. In the car, I will need a mint Oreo blizzard (Shelby, get a cooler), a Thanksgiving dinner, ginger snaps, golden Oreos, cherry cheesecake, and possibly Olive Garden breadsticks with a side of alfredo sauce for dipping.

As if dinner was not enough, later, we went to a little place called Wankandy—yes! Basically, it is a Spanish equivalent to Dylan’s Candy Bar. I was slightly unhappy with them, however, since they did not have my cherry gummies…as if that stopped me from still getting way too much candy than is necessary for someone not 8-years old. If you were wondering, no oompa loompas were present in the store, I checked.

Eventually we had to make the walk to the bus station for our midnight departure for Lisbon. Given it was a seven-hour journey, I was quick to take Emily up on her sleeping pill offer since I can’t ever sleep on buses. Well, I still didn’t sleep. Go figure. The entire time I was in a weird limbo land straddling consciousness and dreams, and had a brief nightmare that I went fishing. It was horrible. When we got to the bus station, we found out that the metro did not open for business for another hour and a half.

It was quite dead in the metro station, minus the few waves of people arriving by train. It was rather hot and sticky, so I decided to go one floor down, stand behind one of the support columns, and change from my jeans to shorts. As luck would have it, while in my boxers sifting through my backpack for my shorts, one of the said waves of people came flooding down the stairs. “Be a chameleon. Be a chameleon. If you don’t move, they won’t see you.” After releasing a sigh of relief once they had passed, I turned around to see one of the janitor ladies looking at me with disdain. It’s not my fault the bathrooms were closed. You should just be lucky I’m not peeing in the lobby. Yeah, take that!

Upon our arrival at the Oasis Hostel, we crashed in the living room (on one of the most fantastic couches ever, I must say) until breakfast. We ventured out after having the best scrambled eggs I had ever had. Our first stop, after hiking up through the Alfama quarter was the fle market. Here in Lisbon, flea markets offer everything you could ever need: out-of-print European coins, jumper cables, medieval swords and shields (if that’s your thing), chargers to every cell phone made before the new millennium, and tampons, if you’re really in a pinch.

I did come to Portugal fully-prepared with my list of things to do: two separate pastry shops, one in Lisbon, and one in Bélem. This is very important stuff. We visited the first one, Versailles, and had delicious, caramel I-don’t-know whats and the best coffee I have had in Europe thus far. The only annoyance was that you had to stand and eat at the bar—too much physical exertion. I’m here to eat sweets and get fat; I don’t want to have to engage in modest exercise in order to do so. Like in all similar places, I was in such a trance of bliss that I left my umbrella on the floor when we left. I’m not having much luck with umbrellas on the road.

What is the logical thing to do after leaving a pastry shop? Cross the street and go to McDonald’s! But let me just ask, have you ever SEEN Portuguese McDonald’s? They have computer kiosks where you can order your food! Other than the fact that it took me four tries and two different employees, it was the coolest thing ever. On the way home, we stopped at one of the many miradors (like Kodak photo spots for the Disney World connoisseurs out there). Dinner that night was prepared by either a hostel worker, or a guest, I’m not entirely sure. I really don’t think I was paying attention to anything this trip. Anyway, it was some sort of red curry dish…with some other items, one of which was crunchy…

The unique aspect of hostel stays is the wide—wide—variety of people you meet. After dinner, Emily and I decided to take up a competitive game of tangrams. It was over the course of playing I met one of our fellow hostel mates: NAB (New Age boy). What started it all was Glee. Lizzie is holding out on watching Glee, for some odd reason of wanting to live above others, and maintain an authentic theater snob disposition (as if there is a secret Broadway agency that would know who became a theater lover after Glee made it popular). Regardless, I still thought she had to see the “Umbrella/Singing in the Rain” video, at least for its cinematographic value.

Seconds from being over, NAB said something to the effect of “Wow, are you really watching Glee?” That’s an odd statement to make first of all, because you are mocking me, yet you somehow know what we are watching. Well from that point on, NAB couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He is a self-proclaimed New Ager (if that even still exists) born and raised in San Francisco, and now attends school in Iowa—IOWA. What New Ager would leave one of the most New Age-y places in the country, to go to school in IOWA. Does anyone even live there? He also kept rambling on and on about luh-coast-ay (Lacoste for us who speak English), and at one point asked if the three of us were dating—rather enthusiastically.

The next morning, we found a package on the couch that was Bianca, who came to join our mad little tea party. After my routine peppermint tea, toast and nutella, and eggs, we were off to catch a train to Sintra, a town on the Atlantic coast. Rolling into the station, we saw a Pizza Hut attached to the train station, and had no other choice but to go. Not only was the pizza the best since leaving home, but they had a cookie dough pizza that was to die for. Completely satisfied and lethargic, we had to slowly make our way into town to get to the palace and gardens.

The palace complex was amazing and was fully-equipped with caves, spiral staircase wells, observation towers, fountains, and trails. The scariest part was the one bit of the underground cave system. We thought we had hit a dead end, but it wasn’t until someone took a picture that we realized it continued on in complete darkness. For some reason, they told me to go first. A while back, I changed locations in the park because a rather large ant was crawling on me, and now you think I’m the best candidate to lead y’all into a creepy, dark cave?

The worst part of the day was just about to come, the walk up to the Moorish castle. I have never—ever!—walked up such a steep incline for that amount of time. Holy cowballs. The best part, the part where I about fainted, was when we got to the entrance to the castle, and the guard asked us for our tickets. “…Tickets?” He then showed us on the map where tickets were to be purchased, at the bottom of the hill. Seeing the utter depression that came over our faces, he allowed us to enter the gate and buy tickets inside. The climb was so worth the views we had from atop the castle wall. Our little happy dance took a bit of a  blow when we saw another fortress even higher up on a different hill. But the chances of me willingly going up the other mountain was equal to the chance of a Taylor Swift song not being about fairytales, unicorns, and rainbows.

Exhausted, but with a whole night remaining, we decided to go to a bar called The Bedroom. Unfortunately, The Bedroom did not appear to be open. What the hell? It was around 9 p.m. so it should have definitely been open. We tried banging on the door, ringing the doorbell, knocking on the sliding peephole door (the technical name of which I don’t know—who would?), and anything else remotely annoying. No one felt like letting us in—they’re loss—so, we headed to another bar where we were surrounded by miniature plastic people a.k.a. figurines. It was fantastic. They even put a clown in Emily’s drink, not literally—how gross?—but a paper cutout of a clown head was attached to her straw.

Fast forward to the next day and we were off again on a train, but this time to Bélem. We first went to a modern art museum; you know how those go: statues of thumbs, blinding white lights with creepy white plastered men, garbage cans lined up in a row (very emotional and inspirational), a movie with ants, and photos of a random lady eating lunch in a field. Afterward, completely confused and exhausted, we went to the second pastry joint on my list. We got the pastries to-go and went next door to Starbucks. It was a pastry dreamland and it was fantabulous.

We also visited a monument dedicated to the Portuguese explorers. While there, Emily shut the elevator doors on the elevator operator who got off on a random floor to grab something and most likely disrupted the entire logistics of the monument. We ended our day in Bélem with a visit to the Torre Bélem, which is like the emblem of Portugal tourism. 

After the tower, we then went for dinner and dessert… again at McDonald’s. The man taking my order single-handedly ruined my Portugal experience. I didn’t believe my order was of the complicated sort, but apparently, it was calculus to his dumb ass. I ordered a double cheeseburger with NO toppings, just cheese, and an OREO McFlurry. What did I get? I got a double cheeseburger with ALL of the fixings and an M&M McFlurry. Really, man? Really? Oreo sounds nothing like M&M. As if this was not enough, we all ordered two apple pies afterward for an amazing bargain of one euro.

Returning back to Lisbon proved to be a very sore spot in my mind. I won’t even delve into the complicated workings of the Lisbon public transit ticketing system, but just trust me, it was complicated. I wasn’t sure if I had somehow nullified my card when I swiped it under the wrong machine so, I decided to walk closely behind Bianca as she walked through the gate. These gates were the kind that required you to wave your card over the sensor and the doors would slide to the right to open, and then close quickly after you walk through. It was a complete and utter failure. The doors tried to slam shut, but this time they couldn’t because my body was preventing that from happening—Oww! I’m surprised I didn’t have dislocated shoulders as the slamming action created quite the sound. I so hope the surveillance coverage of this ends up on YouTube.

It was then time to pack up and head to the bus station for our overnight bus back. There was  just a truly irritating Asian woman on our return bus—what a monster she was. Apparently, China woman felt entitled to both seats in her row, and on purpose, scooted over to the aisle seat when we made our first stop and put her extra luggage on the window seat. Appalled by this, it was soon outdone when someone asked to sit next to her and she shook her head and pointed to the back of the bus! WTF?! The nerve! Who stepped on your fortune cookie?

Thanks to Lizzie, Emily, and Bianca for an awesome time!......seriously, IOWA?

Un saludo,