Written by Mike
Summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime!
As school came to a close last school year, I was very happy to finally have some down-time from the teaching, commuting, and colds that had inundated my life for the eight months prior. As in typical Spanish style, all but one of my private lessons went on a summer furlough, and as a result, a giant vacancy sign was hung in my planner. So the only pressing question as summer began was what to do with all this new, free time? Other than the wave of visitors in June and early August, there was nothing in the foreseeable future to pencil in. Now I know most people would take advantage of this gift and just chill, relax, and travel perhaps. For me though, I’ve been infected with a peculiar tick that has me constantly running a diagnostic report of my life. Down time is go time, and I’m always looking for ways to fill the extra time gaps with productivity. Productivity in this sense usually consists of activities (almost always music related) that are more life-enriching than monetary. So, this past summer I decided to stay put, and get to work.
I have many passions. Sometimes, irritatingly too many, and it would be just dandy to have one that I can focus on 24/7. If, by successful debate and/or empirical certainty, mastery is actually something attainable, then I am for sure the poster boy for jack-of-all-trades, master of none! I don’t know how renaissance men like Da Vinci did it all. Probably because they were geniuses and a bit crazy, and I am for sure not the former but open to debate about the latter. As a result, I struggle to make my daily routines take on a semblance of organization like the mere mortal that I am. Ironically, I never have a lack of options to fill my free time, but I have always been predisposed to bungling my time management skills when I have too much time to work with. Go figure.
I started to fill this newly allotted free time with catching up on my musical muses, wellness habits, and focusing on some smaller things I wanted to attempt to change…well, change is a strong word, more like experiment, or mess with things that are not broken. So for starters, I began to fiddle with my coffee intake. At the beginning of summer I actually tried going completely off caffeine/coffee. I knew that this was a puny plan and the odds were slim to none that I would actually stick to it. I had read many articles about how detoxifying ones body from caffeine eventually leads to increased clarity and energy. Cool, sounds good. I also thought that if I get cranky and/or fall into a stupor from a lack of caffeine, at least I could deal with it at home. No big deal, I love naps. However, this experiment lasted about a week before I relapsed back into my one and only true vice. Weak-minded? Impulsive? Lazy-brained? Probably, all of the above. My excuse for going back to coffee was that it’s actually good for asthmatics. True statement. But then I quickly realized the major contradiction with that statement since cream and milk are inflammatories, and are bad for wheezers like myself. Thus came a compromise; for the exception of a rare café con leche (coffee with milk,) when I’m out and about, I decided to forgo the cream, milk and sugar, and now drink black coffee at home. Being one who, for years, mindlessly dumped flavored creamer and occasionally sugar into my my coffee, I never thought I’d see the day when the astringent taste of black coffee would meet my stingy, uncompromising palate. Oddly enough, I love it.
As earlier stated, most of my students and their families left for the summer, and I temporarily lost all but one of my private lessons. According to my initial calculations, I had saved enough money throughout the school year to just eek by for the summer if no extra lessons were available. I’m also no stranger to locking down my spending to suffocating levels when, on rare occasions, things get tight. No money, no problemo!
About a month into the summer season, I realized that eventually my finances were going to be stretched a bit thinner than I initially thought, and I wasn’t really too keen on depleting my US account if I didn’t have too. As a result, I started searching for teaching jobs at local academies, summer camps and online companies. The summer camps and academies were a no go since they had either started already or shut down for the summer. So after some research for an alternate plan and finally, after a lengthy interview process, I got hired by a company out of China teaching English to children online. I signed a six month contract (just in case I hated it) and until this February, have to teach two hours a day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. From modifying my CV to creating a demo class, props, and a suitable background for my “classroom” (first time experience for me), the process was very time consuming. But then again, I had nothing but time, and was happy to be making some extra scratch during the summer months. As with most new experiences, there are pros on cons for sure, like being able to teach at home in my pajama bottoms but then having an exhausting, strict schedule where I teach four, thirty-minute lessons in a row.
After having this gig for a couple of months, I’m still not sure if I totally dig it. I am definitely one of those people who prefers communicating in person than over the phone, text or even video chat, and I feel that teaching online has this same aesthetic for me. There is also a weirdness for me when entering a stranger’s home via computer. You never know what craziness might go down, especially when children are involved. Luckily nothing that can’t be laughed about later has happened yet! Fingers crossed!
War and Peace
The first part of the summer was very cool and wet. Lots of rain, and lots of bugs. Now since most windows in Spain are devoid of any type of screen, it became a come-one, come-all situation with the bugs inside our piso. Luckily we live on the third floor, so most of the gross insects – mainly those in the eight-legged category – were truant. However, on any given afternoon, it was not uncommon to see a fly fiesta swarming above our heads in the living/dining room. The flies kept to themselves for the most part and were rarely bothersome, but it was in the evening, when we were asleep, that the real battle was waged.
Because the weather was so damp and we had our screen-less windows open pretty much from the time we woke up to the time we went to bed, it gave ample opportunity for rogue groups of mosquitoes to strategically place themselves and wait in hiding until we drifted off to sleep at night. It was during this time that the mosquitos attacked, not me, but poor Karrie. I’m not sure why, but I never received one bite all summer. (Of course in typical, irritating Mike fashion, I theorized that the mosquitos didn’t attack me out of fear of my super-manliness.) Karrie, on the other hand, was pummeled. It was common during these summer nights to be awoken by Karrie swatting at herself right after being bitten. Not once, but usually two to three times. It was then my duty to grab a slipper and hunt down the little, blood-thirsty bastard(s) who cowardly sucker-punched Karrie in her sleep. Powered by a high level of annoyance that fueled a blood-lust for revenge for being woken up, yet again, I was on the prowl. Regardless of what time it was, I did not rest until I found the perp and disposed of it. Luckily, my hunting prowess was augmented by typical mosquito ineptness, as the guilty party was usually hanging out on the wall above the bed, enjoying the spoils of its soon-to-be short-lived victory. This for sure would’ve been a good segment for that American television show “The World’s Dumbest Criminals!”
When not fighting the mosquitos at night, and in between visits from our friends from the U.S., we spent a good part of the summer taking walks and hanging out a local cafes and parks. Even after living in Spain for almost a year, I still couldn’t quite adapt my brain to fully enjoy this amount of peacefulness and free time as first. All the time in the world and a laid back lifestyle in which our days were filled with a nonchalance that would make most overachieving Westerners, like myself, feel nominal pangs of guilt. Guilt for what? Not having my days filled with a soul-sucking itinerary behind the factitious and misguided facade of “security” and “achievement?” Who knows? Fortunately, I was able to get over myself in short-order and was able to enjoy our numerous visitors and the experience of bopping around town, especially to areas we had never been. During our numerous pilgrimages around Logrono this summer, we occasionally stumbled on some interesting and curiously entertaining sites and attractions.
The Introvert Slayer: San Mateo
Imagine if you will, wall to wall people drinking, celebrating, drinking, drinking, and drinking some more. You, squashed in the middle of a street-sized sardine can with people jovally knocking into you. The streets, sticky with wine, sweat, spit, and god only knows whatever other substances, bodily or otherwise, creating a foamy elixir that makes each step a sticky snap. A cacophony made up of thousands of individual voices, converging all at once, creating a high-decibel, sonic glacier that makes even your own thoughts inaudible. An introvert’s nightmare.
The above narrative is a personal rendering of La Rioja’s annual festival celebrating the harvesting of the grapes, San Mateo. Held in mid September, it is is for sure the biggest celebration of the year and many, many people from near and far, come to partake in this week-long event.
Many people. Lots of people.Too many people.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good party, but this festival is on a grander scale than my introvert mind and annoyance gauge will allow. And knowing me, accidental elbows, at times, have a tendency to lead to deliberate elbows in return. Last year at this time, we had arrived right at the onset of this festival but were more or less oblivious to the happenings around us since we were so caught up in misery of being newby expats. However, because of my new teaching schedule and a bit of unforeseeable fortuity, I, fortunately did not get to fully experience the event this year.
After completing my teaching obligations for the day, I met up with the clan (Karrie, B-Rizz, and Elle) at B-Rizz and Elle’s piso (a typical 10 minute walk that turned into 30) with plans to meet up with some of our Spanish friends to partake in the insanity. I was primed and prepared with a crappy white t-shirt (to absorb the infinite amounts of wine and beer that I was sure going to be accidentally dumped on me), a nap, coffee, and some frozen pizzas to devour before we dove head-first into this sea of insanity. But alas, upon my arrival, my meticulous preparation was all for naught. The “clan,” who earlier in the day, braved the morning onslaught of San Mateo patrons, and endured, what is for sure, the most over-stimulating experience ever, had an air and look of exhaustion, incredulity, and perhaps a bit of defeat. Our initial plan was to get the wheels greasin’ again with a little rest, starter beers, and perhaps some card games. One hour turned into two, which turned into three and so on. Before we knew it, we were four hours into playing card games, eating, drinking and just hanging out away from the jolly madness occuring on the streets below. At that point we all agreed, in overwhelming consent, to just stay in for the evening. This not-so-last-minute cancellation was not a total loss though as we were able to witness, in my opinion, one of the greatest examples of teamwork.
Enter, the Limpiezas.
In a previous post I wrote about how amazingly clean Logrono keeps their city. Most nights the streets get hosed down with a battalion of cleaners, washing away the daily accumulation of trash, dog doody and general “what-not’s” off the streets. This time, however, an entire legion showed up.
High above, from B-Rizz and Elle’s third story terrace, we watched as the Limpiezas marched with a lava-like cadence as they scoured the pavement of it’s debauchery. Every cleaning apparatus possible: brooms, hose, scrubbers, cleaners on foot, street sweepers, a garbage truck bringing up the rear, and a police escort to top it all off! With the wall-to-wall people making the already narrow streets impregnable, I was very curious, and a bit skeptical as to how this wave of cleaners were going to be remotely successful. But to our astonishment, they sliced through the hordes and mayhem like an ice-cutter in the frozen, arctic seas.
Crickets, Whiskey, and Mushrooms
Since being in Spain, I have eaten various parts of different animals that I never thought my texture-sensitive palate would allow; pig ear, pig face, frog legs, anchovies, and squid tentacles. Recently, I have pushed this threshold to an outer limit I didn’t think I was capable of!
Case in point: Box O’ flavored crickets and worms.
I stumbled upon these one day while grocery shopping. Different flavors of shrink-wrapped crickets and worms for a not-so paltry price of seven euro! As a compliment, this French, insecto-snack also offers power bars made from, you guessed it, cricket flour! As I cannot yet bring myself to spend this egregious amount of money on a box of crickets or worms that I’m sure I would eat only one of, I opted for the two euro power bar instead.
…looks and smells normal…
…I apologize to those who were expecting some sort of gross climax to this story, but really, this bar tasted exactly the same as any other power bar I’ve had. It might as well of been a Lara Bar. So, if it is true, that insect flour will be the new, sustainable way to make food in the future, I think I will be more than capable of handling this change. Maybe one day I’ll try the box of crickets and worms and to see if I can successfully pop off the cricket heads and wings before consuming, as per the instructions on the back of the box. I just have to convince, or more realistically, delude myself with a really, really good “reason” to spend that amount of money for something I am doing purely for man-points. And though I still occasionally suffer from this neanderthal disposition, taking a hit in the wallet has been my best defense against natural selection!
And alas, we come to a consumable that, I am convinced, is the end-all, be-all of grossness: mushrooms. Yes, I have lamented about this in an earlier post, so I will spare you all (and myself) and leave the ranting for a future, more original and interesting subject. So on one, early September night, I ventured way, way beyond the outer limits this time. A one-time deal. Never again.
I ate mushrooms.
This event came about because of a bet/dare I had made with one of my friends. We made a bet that if she drank a single of whiskey, which she claims she hates, then I would eat a stack of mushrooms.
As you can tell by my facial expressions, this experience, for me, was more akin to having my throat used as a slip-n-slide for a bowl of eyeballs. At least that was the thought going through my mind as I was trying to keep my gag reflex to a minimum. All things being equal though, I did get off easy, as the mushrooms were doused in garlic butter and came with a bread chaser. But still. And so I toasted my “victory” later that night with a double of Jamesons, and looked on as my co-bette fulfilled her obligation with what the Irish call, the water of life. Good times.