laundry with a hint of lunch

laundry under the cubre ropas
Two days ago I hung my laundry out on our amusing window clothes line and pulled its sturdy rain cover taut overtop. Sure enough, it drizzled in the intervening days, but my clothes kept slowly drying, and today I took them down, holding my breath as I leaned out to reach them and hoping I didn’t drop a sock or a clothes pin into the abyss of the empty, locked courtyard below.

I can’t say my clothes smell fresh and clean. Their odor is an odd but not entirely unpleasant mixture of the lunches and dinners of several different apartments, plus a weak whiff of strange Spanish detergent, and a hint of damp leaves fallen in cool autumn puddles. Mmm. I’m glad I forgot to wash my PJs; I think I’ll let them dry inside. The architect clearly wasn’t thinking when he designed this building with the kitchens and their windows opening to the same courtyard where everyone’s laundry would have to hang. Time to buy some aggressively floral fabric softener.

On a completely separate note, today I met with the owners of an English academy, for whom I’m going to do some tutoring! I had hoped to be able to do something of the like while here, but I never expected it to drop into my lap like it did; my Direct Translation professor asked me if I’d be interested, since he knows the owners. I told him that I most certainly would, and here we are. I may start tutoring my first student this Saturday!

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by the ría

towards Guggenheim

This weekend I went down to the old part of town, called Casco Viejo, in an attempt to find a church that I wanted to visit. Improbably enough, I failed on both Saturday and Sunday – the place must be really well hidden – but I did get to stroll along the banks of  the estuary on the way back. In Spanish it’s called the ría, which I think is a lovely contrast to the masculine term for river, río.

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Both times I used the metro to take me down town. It’s cleanest and newest I’ve seen anywhere.

imageThe estuary curves around and through the city, so it’s never far away. The ornate train station (still used) is the building on the far left above.

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There’s sort of an extension to the Guggenheim that’s built so the museum appears to envelop the bridge right next to it. You can see the sun shining between the stone tiles, though.

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This evening the sun finally came out after showers off and on all day, but yesterday the clouds stuck around.

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I walked down the side of the ría opposite the Guggenehim yesterday and took a number of pictures, so you could see the boat form of the museum and its scale compared to the bridge and skyscraper near it.

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Guggenheim Bilbao: worth my time

Gugghenheim Bilbao

Call me unsophisticated, but I’ve never managed to enjoy a modern art museum. Granted, I’ve been in a grand total of three, maybe four, in my life. But that was completely sufficient. However, the modern/contemporary art of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao held my interest on Friday, and I would even go back. Perhaps I’ve reformed. Or perhaps the Guggenheim Bilbao was simply an stunningly constructed and well-curated modern art museum. Who knows. Regardless, it was excellent and the first modern art museum I’d wholeheartedly recommend!

Side note: Dad brought to my attention that, coincidentally, NPR did a piece/article on Frank Gehry this pas Thursday. It mentioned something that my audioguide also told me: Gehry is more artist than architect in his natural state, his career as the latter possible in large part due to the blessing of living in an age of computer modeling that can turn his attractive but at first structurally improbable designs into realities. Definitely believable.

My pictures are all at the wrong angle to show it, but the outside of the Guggenheim is shaped like a massive boat covered with steel plates that shimmer like fish scales.

On the entrance side of the museum near the city stands a permanent installation called Puppy, which is an enormous dog shape covered in a patchwork of blooming flowers. Unique and adorable.

The side of the museum facing the estuary is embraced by a shallow pool, which makes the river seem closer. Several pieces have their homes on little islands in the pool, one of which is a shining tree of metal spheres, apparently made by the artist whose work includes the so-called “Bean” in Chicago.

atrium

The inside of the museum has more curves and unexpected faces and angles as the outside, especially the atrium area, with its insane mixture of glass, steel, and rock twisting up toward a skylight above.

atrium side

Besides being simply visually stimulating to walk through, the Guggenheim felt intuitive. Curving walkways, sloping ramps, and winding galleries lead me through every single space; I don’t think I ever left a gallery the same way I entered. It was refreshing not to have to wonder if I’d missed something, as I often do in art museums. I just followed the natural flow of the building and saw everything.

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It appeared to me that a select few galleries of the Guggenheim hold permanent collections, while the vast majority of the space is dedicated to extensive impermanent exhibitions. The ones there during my visit were Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time, and Shahzia Sikander’s Parallax.

I thoroughly enjoyed a number of Jeff Koons’ whimsical painted and polished steel sculptures shaped like massive balloon creatures and blow-up pool toys, as well as his baffling sets of basketballs suspended underneath the water in small aquarium tanks. Parallax was a strange piece of audio-visual art made up of a wide-screen presentation of endlessly-shifting water-color shapes accompanied by loud music that to my ignorant ear sounded “Middle Eastern” and eery. It played for ages, and I never saw a repeated sequence; impressive and somehow simultaneously disturbing and mesmerizing. I sped through the Basquiat art, as its scribbled words and distorted sketches reminded me of poorly done graffiti or the naïve attempts of a five-year-old to scrawl his world on crumpled paper with a crayon.

kids' art Bilbao

Speaking of children, there was a lovely little corner gallery apparently reserved for art from classes of local school children, which even included a project where they corresponded from kids who live near the Guggenheim in New York.

Bilbao Gugghenheim bathroom tile

Bonus: even the bathrooms were beautiful!

second language confusion

Vivobarefoot evo pure

Humor me for a moment, and let’s imagine something together.

You’re nine years old. For as long as you’ve been able to talk you’ve been calling your mother “Mommy” – or “Mom,” if you decided to be cool really young. When you want to get her attention, “Mom” jumps out of your mouth without so much as a thought. Not even a split second. It’s just there. It’s the word you associate with her.
Now comes the fun part. This year in school you’re in your mom’s class. She’s a teacher, and this year she’ll be your teacher (for the sake of argument it’s a small school; one teacher per grade). Along with all the weirdness and embarrassment this brings, you’re going to have to call her Mrs. [insert your last name here] in class.
The first several weeks of school are incredibly frustrating, because this scenario keeps repeating itself over and over: you need to say something to your mom, but instead of saying, “Mrs. Iylnh, can you —?” you automatically blurt out, “Mom, can —?” and then catch and correct yourself. The first week the word “Mom” springs out without any hesitation, and you only realize after a few seconds, and maybe a glare from your mother, that you’ve said the wrong word. The second week you slip up less frequently but somehow you feel more confused. A split second before you hail your mom, your brain holds back your lips, as you remember that “Mom” isn’t the right word to use. There’s another word. What is it? Why would you call your mom anything else but that? What is it, though? You hesitate, and if anyone was looking at your face, they would see the slight furrow in your brows and the blank look in your eyes. What feels like at least a few seconds later – who knows if it was just miliseconds or much longer – the muddle clears. Oh, right! “Hey Mrs. Iylnh —”

A battle that I can only describe with the story above has been playing out in my brain ever since I returned from studying abroad in Freiburg last summer, a whole year ago now. I have some serious second language confusion: that is, a lot of transfer from one of my second languages (German) to my other second language (Spanish). It’s never the actual word “Mom,” but it’s ones that feel just as familiar in the language I’m speaking. Up until today and to my great consternation, I accidentally threw German words into my Spanish sentences or, worse yet, was unable to complete my sentences because the word that I once knew perfectly well in Spanish would only come to mind in German. What are called “functional words,” like conjunctions and prepositions, were/are particularly prone to this problem, as well as filler words like “so” and exclamations like “really!?” (well, their equivalents in German, that is). Well, today I finally experienced the opposite.
I went to the gym (where I got to use my new Vivobarefoot tennis shoes! – I get a bit excited about trying new kinds of zero-drop shoes) and briefly met a German girl. She spoke to me immediately in German, because she’d heard me speaking Spanish when I’d accidentally throw in that German word for “so.” I attempted to respond in German without freaking her out with my rabid, pure joy at having the chance to switch from my still rusty and halting Spanish back to oh-so-comfortable German. And then a Spanish word jumped into my sentence! I saw it there in my mind just before it happened; it was a strangely vivid and visual experience. The Spanish word hovered in the twilight in bold, prepared to march forth, but in the background was the muted, hazy form of the equivalent word in German. Then it was over. She laughed, and I threw up my hands in exasperation as I explained how I constantly mix the two languages. She kindly sympathized. I shut my mouth.

Anyway, I’m glad my Spanish is slowly returning enough for it to start bullying my German. And the blessing it is to even have this problem is not lost on me. But it’s high time I make both Spanish and German friends, because I think the only way to solve the problem is by speaking both languages on a daily basis. And speaking English all the time, as I’ve been doing with my American classmates, isn’t going to help a thing.

After my Panorama of Spanish Literature class, I paid a visit to one of the abundant bulk candy stores that appear around every corner here. No one ever mentions Spain as being a prime place to find candy, but, well I guess it is. They’re stocked with gummy, chewy, and marshmallowy candies of (literally) scores of different shapes, flavors, and sizes. The pepper-shaped one I tried was shockingly spicy – an odd sensation!

spicy candy

Highlighter for scale.

Norway: glacier hiking, kayaking & camping

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On the fourth day we hiked for seven hours (crampons, ice picks, the works!) and tried ice climbing on a glacier. Day five we met our guide and two Lebanese groupmates for our overnight kayaking trip down the Sognefjord, packed our provided gear into our kayaks, and set out. We glamped (glamorous camping with so. much. good. food.) a night and then kayaked further down the fjord on day six before paddling all 18 kilometers back to where we started. Day seven was an 8-hour, scenic train ride back to Oslo for our flights home the next morning.

We took a boat across a small lake to near the base of the glacier, schlepping our gear with us.

We took a boat across a small lake to near the base of the glacier, schlepping our gear with us.

After about an hour of hiking up to and onto the glacier, our guide poked some bits of metal into the top of a cliff, threw some rope down, and stood on belay while we climbed up and rappelled down. Isaac went first.

After about an hour of hiking up to and onto the glacier, our guide poked some bits of metal into the top of a cliff, threw some rope down, and stood on belay while we climbed up and rappelled down. Isaac went first.

Everyone but me made it to the top, including Mom, hip problems and all. I wasn't too thrilled to climb up something while having to rely on crampons and ice picks instead of hands and toes to pull me up. No fun.

Everyone but me made it to the top, including Mom, hip problems and all. I wasn’t too thrilled to climb up something while having to rely on crampons and ice picks instead of hands and toes to pull me up. No fun.

There were a few ice tunnels to be climbed through.

There were a few ice tunnels to be climbed through.

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Roped together and all our helmets at jaunty angles. We made quite a picture.

Roped together and all our helmets at jaunty angles. We made quite a picture.

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Recovery ice cream.

Recovery ice cream.

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Our campsite view.

Our campsite view.

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Isaac and Ben found wild blueberries.

Isaac and Ben found wild blueberries.

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There was much rock skipping.

There was much rock skipping.

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Waiting for the train.

Waiting for the train.

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a cold war

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There’s a miniature cold war going on between one of my housemates and me. I open the hallway window. Someone closes it. I open the window. Someone closes it. It’s right outside my door, but I never hear them in the act. So I open it again, because I believe reasons are logical. I open the window to remedy stuffiness, to welcome the warmer outside air into the icebox apartment, and to attempt to rid the hallway of the lingering and acrid smell of cigarette smoke that filters under the closed door of the girl who smokes – “But only in her room!” said my landlord, as if smoke were an animal that could be easily caged.

I still haven’t interacted with either of the two potential window-slamming transgressors, my housemates, for more than 15 seconds a piece, as they stay in their rooms with their doors closed during the day – whether they’re actually there I’m never sure until they briefly exit to use the bathroom or walk out the front door – and only venture out past 10:00pm to eat or watch tv, at which point I’m already in bed or nearly there. Oddly enough, the other three housemates that should supposedly live here don’t seem to have arrived yet. The first week of classes will soon be over; but for all I know, it could be normal in Spain to skip the first week of classes.

My schedule has finally solidified. And, man, is it horrendous. I’m more or less pleased with my classes, but the timing of them all couldn’t be much worse. They start at 8:00am every day but Wednesday, when they start at 9:00, and my last class ends no earlier than 5:25 every day but Friday. Thankfully I’m not in class that entire time, and I live close to home so I can return for lunch or to do homework, but I have hours-long breaks in between classes. Quite annoying. All told, I’m taking Beginner Chinese, (pseudo-)Advanced Spanish Conversation, Direct (English to Spanish) Translation, Europe in the World, and Panorama of Spanish Literature. The only class that interests me is Chinese, but that’s what I get for putting off odious classes I’m required to take until my very last semester of college.

As I mentioned yesterday, Direct Translation is certainly proving to be a challenge. I have never been more painfully aware than I am now of the frequency with which we use idioms in writing and speaking English and how few of them I know in Spanish. This weekend I have to translate a movie review from Rolling Stone, which is a joy to read in English. That, I’m coming to realize, means a text will be a nightmare to translate into Spanish.

Bilbao from above clouds

This evening after class ended some of my classmates and I took a funicular up a hill to see the view. Unfortunately, during the afternoon the brilliant sun from the morning had turned to thick, low clouds, so the view was less than spectacular. I suspect it was, however, a more typical view of the city than sunshine would’ve been, and it was still neat to have the city spread out below us and to pick out the Guggenheim and other landmarks. The photo above is just the northern third or so of the city. On the way there we also happened upon a massive mural under a bridge. There is art in every corner of this city.

red bridge mural

Norway: mountains, row boating & hiking

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Three weeks ago our family was all together, an occurrence that is inevitably and tragically becoming more and more rare these days. Even better than that, we were in Norway! We converged at the Oslo airport from four directions: Mom and Dad from their 25th wedding anniversary-moon in the Dolomites of northern Italy, Isaac from elsewhere in Scandinavia after a 15-day jaunt through Europe via train, Ben from lifeguarding all summer in Texas, and I from interning in Neu-Isenburg.

I must say I anticipated the trip with a bit of trepidation, as traveling as a family always has had its stresses. But I shouldn’t have worried. We laughed and joked and grinned and goofed our way through the mountains, fjords, hiking trails, and quaint villages. It couldn’t have been a better week.

The first day we drove up through some stunning mountainous scenery to a cabin, where we spent the night before continuing the next day to another cabin on the side of a fjord, which we row boated across to hike up to a waterfall on the third day.

YAY NORWAY

The oh-my-gosh-we’re-all-in-the-same-place excited car selfie attempt.

Poor Ben was the only one with jetlag, so we saw a lot of this.

Poor Ben was the only one with jetlag, so we saw a lot of this.

Isaac trying to get wifi, look cool, and admire the scenery all at once.

Isaac trying to get wifi, look cool, and admire the scenery all at once.

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Isaac and Ben sprung their way down to the rushing river like mountain goats. Their tiny figures are in the picture somewhere.

Isaac and Ben sprung their way down to the rushing river like mountain goats. They’re in the pictures somewhere.

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To the waterfall!

To the waterfall!

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Our goal from about halfway there.

Our goal from about halfway there.

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Before, when we were dry.

Before, when we were dry.

We tried to get closer by scrambling up the mossy rocks of the steep hill in the driving mist.

We tried to get closer by scrambling up the mossy rocks of the steep hill in the driving mist.

The boys were much more successful.

The boys were much more successful.

After: soaking wet.

After: soaking wet.

We browsed in thickets of wild raspberries.

We browsed in thickets of wild raspberries on the way back down the trail.

And we found some currants.

And currants.

The boys and Mom took a motor boat out while Dad and took the rowboat again.

The boys and Mom took a motor boat out while Dad and took the rowboat again. Dad snagged my camera for this photo, hence the, uh, artsy angle.

Dad got in the snow-melt water of the fjord.

Dad got in the snow-melt water of the fjord.

Photos from the other days will come in a following post or two.