little sarah Big World

Month: December, 2011

Ya Regreso

That means “be right back” in Spanish. Because sometimes you get invited to spend a family-style Christmas in a small town with friends that you came to know through a string of random events and connections, and it happens so fast that you don’t even have time to post a goodbye to your (dwindling, but) beloved internet Friends.

And then you take an even more surprise, last-minute mini-vacation to Valencia, because Kevin has a spur-of-the-moment desire after realizing how close Valencia is to Tarazona, and Kevin NEVER has spur-of-the-moment…anything. So you go to Valencia for two three days (as easy as changing the bus tickets), and take more pictures than you think you will ever have time to blog, but you promise yourself that you WILL blog them, damnit, because your Friends need you. And you need a sense of purpose.

Because…even though all this makes it sound like and oh-so romantic and whimsical and spontaneous time, what it feels like is a series of snapshots, disconnected moments, good and bad and foolish and simple and new and memories and tired and drinking, confused as ever, all of it thrown together, one piece passing by at a time, and you are trying to live in the moment, but the moment keeps changing to something else, and it is not surreal, it is as real and natural as everyday life, except that you are supposed to go back to your everyday life in Salt Lake City, and you really, really don’t want to, but it makes even less sense to stay, and you have your doubts, and no matter what somebody is going to get hurt, and you still haven’t learned your lessons and you are coping by reading Memoirs of a Geisha all the time, for hours and hours at a time, but you are still not done because it is 499 pages and you are a slow reader.

So…yeah, I need to figure out that next step, is what I’m saying.

More posts to come, naturally.



The Spanish Christmas Spirit

I’ve never felt the Christmas spirit more than I do here in Spain. I don’t mean the spirit of giving and good will–although those are completely excellent pursuits–I mean that inexplicable magic, that sort of sparkle in the air. That warmth and cheer and light in a season that might otherwise be dark and harsh and cold.

I was first struck by this two years ago, while living her in Madrid. Here’s the post about that, and it’s one of my all-time favorite posts, when I feel like I first started to develop my style of casual photos and prose on this here blog. So please check it out.

Now, the second time around, I think I get it, that I can explain what makes the holiday season in Spain so special. First, it’s about how everywhere gets decorated. Not people’s houses, so much (although you do see quite a few deep red “Christ Was Born – Merry Christmas” flags with the baby Jesus in his nest hanging from apartment windows, as well as those dangly ladders with a stuffed santa–or the three wise men!–trying to climb up and through the window), but pretty much everywhere else.

I am talking about public spaces–bars, restaurants, cafés, intersections, plazas, etc. Los españoles are, after all, muy de la calle. They live the bulk of their lives outside the house, and with Christmas being a huge social event, it’s only natural that all of these communal gathering places should be strung with tinsel and garland. Of course, we do this in the US, too, but not in the same way, and not to the same extent. I mean, when was the last time you went into a dusty dive bar at Christmastime to find that it was not only be-decorated, but decorated thoroughly and tastefully? Exactly.

The second secret ingredient in the Spanish Holiday Cheer recipe is longevity. So, yes, they’ve got Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it doesn’t stop there! After New Year’s, Spaniards celebrate Three Kings Day (Día de los Reyes Magos–the three wise men) on January 6th. If Christmas is more about family and big meals and staying up late drinking and talking, then Reyes is the day more similar to our American Christmas, the day where little kids wake up early and tear through presents. In the end, we’re talking two full weeks of non-stop Christmas-y action, and it’s all considered Christmastime (Navidades). Not to mention the build-up to all this–lights, carols, shopping–which starts in earnest around late November/early December (as opposed to, say, October 31st, and I’m looking and YOU, USA).

And I like it. I mean, I think that in the US we build up SO MUCH for just one day, and then it’s over, and there’s always this huge let-down. When I found out that my friend Eric’s birthday is December 26th, I apologized to him, because that’s pretty much the shittiest day of the year (whereas February is the shittiest month, happy birthday to me). I appreciate that in Spain the Christmas Season is truly a season, a span of time, and although it’s certainly immersed in consumer culture, at least it’s not that awful shopping/decorating/propaganda landslide of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas one right after the other boom boom boom.

But of course I could never leave all of my American Christmas traditions behind.

Because our gingerbread cookies are pretty kick-ass. And our carols are way better.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

This post is dedicated to my father, who loves Christmas more than any other Jew I know.

It’s a Small, Small World



There’s more to the US than New York and LA, and there’s more to Spain than Madrid and Barcelona

All this “world traveling” has created in me a sweet appreciation for the peculiar localisms and particular uniqueness of any place, no matter how big or small. It’s certainly changed my perspective on Utah’s cities and towns. Traveling brings everything alive, all the details you might otherwise have overlooked. It shows us a new place in its best light, makes things seem exciting and prescient. But you can have that at home, too. And you can have it in a small town just as well as a big city.

In my last few days before I moved back to Salt Lake from Madrid, I extended an invitation to my roommates to come visit me any time, stay in my house and let me show them around Utah. Little María told me that, no offense, but if she were going to go to the US, she’d rather go some place like New York or maybe Los Angeles.

And I see what she’s saying–that she’d rather go somewhere “bright lights big city,” some place she’s heard so much about–but I disagree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love New York. In fact, I’m taking steps right now to be legitimately living and working there within the next few years. But is New York the best representation of the United States as a whole? How could a place so vast and so diverse as our 50 states ever be exemplified by one single city, even a city as amazing and eclectic as New York or LA? And how can staying in a cheap hotel (or even a fancy one) in a foreign place and sight-seeing and eating at restaurants compare to sleeping in somebody’s home, eating at their table, meeting their friends and having them show you around the way only a local can? It can’t, is what I’m saying.

I’m really grateful that my first experience with Spain was in Oviedo, which is no small town but a city in it’s own right, the capitol of Asturias, and with a population greater than Salt Lake. But it’s certainly not the place most people think of when they think of Spain, while planning a vacation or shopping around for study abroad options. Most people think Barcelona or Madrid, and then maybe some place like Seville or even Valencia. But Oviedo is unique, it’s unexpected, and I stayed in somebody’s home, and nobody spoke to me in English. And I think there’s a lot of value in approaching any new place with the same level of interest and enthusiasm that you might normally reserve only for big-name capitals.

Yesterday I went with Kevin to work, in Rivas-Vaciamadrid, an urban development and municipality within the community of Madrid, situated to the south-east of Madrid City Center and boasting 70,000 inhabitants. We taught a Facebook/Christmas-themed lesson to his middle- and high school-aged students, ate lunch in the cafeteria, took a long walk up to the hillside, and strolled through the main part of town, where the town hall and library are, stopping to have a drink and a snack, and of course to snap photos.

On the metro ride back into the city, we bumped into one of Kevin’s students–an American girl named Kaley from Colorado, on a year-long study abroad in Rivas. I think a lot of people might wonder “Rivas? Why Rivas? Why not Granada or Cordoba or something?” But all I could think was “How lucky.”

Wait, Sarah, What Are You Doing in Spain?

– Eating about a tin of olives per day

– Drinking claras and picando things in little bars and cafés

– Forcing Kevin to reorganize his room/buy basic home furnishings

– Suffering tremendous, sharp, stabbing stomach pains (unrelated to olive consumption)

– Getting my sleep cycle all messed up up so that my most awake/alert time is right now, bedtime

– Making facebook pages for Santa, Rudolph, and the rest of the gang with my chicos in Illescas

– Watching YouTube videos

– Getting tear-inducing, almost painful giggles with Kevin every night when we’re supposed to be going to bed

– (Bedtime is not our forte)

– Eating tortilla and hanging out with my compis, just like the old days

– Baking Cookies and drinking wine, just like the old days

– Missing Laura

– Searching for a way to stay

23 Candles


“Happy birthday / Happy birthday, baby / Oh, I love you so”

— The Crests

Yay, Kevin is 23!!! That means that for nearly two whole months, I will be a mere two years older (numerically speaking) instead of the standard three years older. Then in February I turn 26 and I suppose we’ll return to the sweet cougar action to which we’ve grown so accustomed.

I took him out for a (belated) celebratory dinner at Alfredo’s Barbacoa in Cuzco. The boy has gone nearly 3 months without a decent burger, Friends. And that is a crying shame. An eagle-shedding-a-single-tear-in-front-of-the-American-flag-style crying shame.

We had crazy-rare burgers–I ordered medium rare, which came out red and juicy in the middle, and Kevin ordered rare, which was so un-cooked that the meat barely held together–plus fries, onion rings, coca-cola, and apple pie. Here’s a picture of me eating all that:

…and here’s a picture of me from two years ago, doing pretty much the same thing, in a Madrid McDonald’s:

I come to Spain and eat hamburgers. Deal with it.

But I digress–we were celebrating Kevin’s birthday! We finished the night by trying to get drunk at a nearby bar.

But we were too full to allow that much liquid into our bellies. So after one drink we called it quits, headed home on the metro and said goodnight.

*       *       *

Happy birthday, Kevin. You deserve all of the good things.

Welcome (Back) to Spain!


I Didn’t Know It Would Feel Like Home

Well, here I am. Nothing new to report, really, other than being in Spain. Maybe it’s the fact that I lived here for a whole year, or the fact that Kevin’s apartment is just down the block and around the corner from where mine was, but things feel strangely…natural. Comfortable, even, and hardly like being on vacation at all. It just feels like living here.

Except that Kevin lives in a rough part of town…just kidding! But here’s a picture of him on “the gross part of Doctor Esquerdo” from our walk last night. Part of feeling like we were at home was going out and running errands, with me leading the way half the time.

This picture was taken right outside the Corte Inglés in Goya. This was one of the very first spots that Laura took me in Madrid, when I was fresh off the plane, ready to spend 9 months of my life teaching English and living Spanish. It’s funny, how once you get to know a place, you’ll come across places that were once so foreign to you, and they’ve become so commonplace. How when you first arrive, everywhere you go is like an island, a spot you arrive and spend sometime before twisting and winding your way to the next, unrelated spot. But in time you connect the dots, and a full map forms in your mind, and then its funny to look back and think “I had no idea where this was, and now I do.”

Then imagine finding yourself back in this formerly-uncharted but now altogether familiar land, as though almost no time at all had passed, and that’s where I’m at right now.

*       *       *

Went to the faculty dinner last night with Kevin and his coworkers from the high school. It was a warm and fitting welcome (back) to Spain–a big meal, lots of wine, conversation that I understood most (but not all) of, and even some dancing.

It’s good to be back.

Holiday Travel Madness


Guess who made it all the way to Salt Lake International Airport without her passport yesterday? That’s right! Me!

Oh, man, but that’s not even the half of it. First, I packed the morning of my flight, because I was up LATE the night before, celebrating with Eric and Co. after our ridiculously successful (previously mentioned) performance. I call it ridiculous, because we’d never even rehearsed all together before, let alone had a dress rehearsal, and some (Eric) thought it might be a total mess, but instead it was great and the room was packed and there was a line of 20+ people out the door and it was magical and Eric stood bathed in a halo of golden spotlight playing the accordion, but no I don’t have any pictures of it, sorry.

Then a long time of congratulations and people giving us money and packing up, and then free Indian food happened at the staff party for Salt Lake Film Society, plus free Epic beer, and then on to Eric’s folks’ place, where there was wassail and home-made caramel and staying up late chatting with Eric’s mom at the kitchen table.

So, yeah–I got home at, like, three or something, and stayed up an additional hour, determined to finish The Poisonwood Bible before leaving for Spain. Because I’m crazy like that these days. Crazy addicted to books.

THE PLOT THICKENS: So I packed this morning, finishing just in time for Natalie to pick me up, but my suitcase felt WAY too heavy. BUT GUESS WHAT? Natalie is a genius, that’s what! She suggested that we stop at her house (which is right on the way to the airport) to weigh my bag and take things out. BUT WAIT! She doesn’t have a scale. So we used the WiFit. We had to make a little Mii for the damn suitcase and everything. BUT THE BAG WON’T STAY BALANCED ON THE SCALE! So I stood on the WiiFit, holding the bag, and then we just subtracted how much I weigh. It was 10 lbs. too heavy. We took some things out. BUT WAS IT TEN POUNDS OF THINGS? SHOULD WE WEIGH THE BAG AGAIN? Naw, we’ll just weigh me, holding a bag with all the stuff we’d taken out, subtract my weight, and see if that’s 10 lbs. worth. AND IT WAS.

All of that was Natalie’s genius, as I was basically in a stunned stupor and she’s a quick thinker.

Then after all that we got to the airport, realized I didn’t have my passport (inflatable neck pillow, yes, but passport, no), raced back to my place, thanked the Universe that I had a spare key on me, since I’d given mine to Natalie and we’d left it at her house (!!!), zoomed back to the airport and made it an hour and ten minutes before my flight OMG.

The best part is, we weren’t even too freaked out. It was actually kind of fun, and there’s nobody that could have happened with besides Natalie. Thanks, Sis. Happy birthday on the 18th, also.

*       *       *

Then my second flight was delayed, so instead of a 50-minute layover in Chicago, it was more like 3 hours. No worries, Friends! Remember I already learned to make the best of traveling delays? So I visited the urban garden they have right in the terminal.

*       *       *

Now today I’m in Madrid, with Kevin. What a world. Anyways, Happy Holidays and safe travels to those of you who are flying, driving, apparating, etc. May you have fewer shenanigans than I!



“My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready to Go”

Except that my bags aren’t packed. But my presents are wrapped! And packaged, stamped, and shipped, in some cases.

I’ve got to say that fleeing the country has done wonders for my productivity. I can’t “put off until tomorrow what can be done today,” because tomorrow I’ll be in Spain, or at least on my way. So I made a list, and I’ve just been plowing through, even tackling things I’ve been putting off for years, like attaching the basket to my bike and mailing copies of photos from high school to old friends.

I even had time for a ladies night at my place last night, which inspired me to clean like I’ve never cleaned before. Honestly, this is the tidiest and most organized my little studio has been since I moved in.

Then tonight I have a concert with Eric and the ensemble, and tomorrow I’m on my way. But I haven’t packed, no. I’ll find the time. Right now, I feel it’s important to enjoy the season and the company of my friends. To make time for cheer.

Voluntary Sterilization

I’m not sure if I want kids or not, and lately I’ve been leaning towards not. When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait. In fact, my high school boyfriend (the first one) and I used to fantasize about having kids together, even going so far as rubbing my puffed-out belly and pretending I was already pregnant!

(PS – One of Life’s greatest reliefs is that we didn’t act upon this particular impulse. Seriously, I thank my lucky stars about it ALL THE TIME.)

Add to that a lifetime of babysitting, nannying, teaching English to kids, working in a children’s library…and it would seem obvious that I’m destined for maternal bliss. But I don’t think so. I’ve got a five-year-old sister and (as of today) FOUR nephews to hang out with and exorcise my arts-n-crafts, sing-a-long demons. I think that’ll be plenty. Plus I like my time and money and would prefer not to give that all away to an irrational egomaniac, or “toddler”.

My Dad doesn’t believe me, though.  “Oh, you say that now, but you’ll see. You’ll change your mind. I felt the same way when I was your age, but it’s one of the greatest joys in life. You’ll see.” Lots of grown-ups say this to me, actually. This is because when they were my age they were lawyers or some other professional type, far removed from the harsh reality of small children. They didn’t have to deal with this on a daily basis:

This little act of misconduct was carried out by a team of brothers (I’d guess 2- and 4-years-old), while their mom sat planted in front of one of our “kids only” computers, on Facebook.

Right after cleaning this up I had to give a stern-voiced “STOP IT.” to another set of brothers; one was kicking the other in ribs while he lay curled in a fetal position. Hearing my reprimand, their father glanced up from his computer with a look of shock and disapproval, as if to say “Don’t you talk to my kids that way!”

Later, while begrudgingly helping me clean up a cluster of wrinkled magazines splayed on the floor (“He was just reading, what?”), the mom of the first set told her 2-year-old “Shut up. Nobody wants to hear it.” in such a cruel and condescending tone that I almost couldn’t take it.

…And this is what I’m talking about. This is what my mom calls “free birth control,” and it works like a charm. If I were a fellow parent, I might be tempted to understand and empathize with these parents. But I don’t want to. I just want to go home, eat dinner, watch my programs while working on Accomplishments, read my book, and go to bed. And since I have no children to call my own, I’ll be able to do just that, no interruptions, no hassles.

Why would I want to ever change that?

Returning the Favor

I hope that I am as good to my girlfriends as they are to me. That I am patient, caring, funny, silly, and wild the way they are. I hope that I listen as well as they do, and that I lift them out of their slumps–even if only for an afternoon–the way that they’ve done for me. I hope I’ve said the right thing.

I never realized how much of my adult female socializing would take place in coffee shops, bistros, cafes, etc. Not that I’m complaining.