Seville Snapshots: Halloween in Seville

When I left work on Halloween night, belly full of candy corn and about ready to crash from the sugar, I was shocked to see zombies walking the streets in Nervión. Now, I love Halloween and cemeteries and ghost stories, but Halloween has never been a thing in Spain.

Six years ago, I suggested a Halloween party at the high school I worked at as an auxiliar de conversación. Everyone came dressed as something scary but me. I must have repeated how to carve a pumpkin 31 times during my classes.

Afterwards, I was exhsuated and had to calm down by drinking in Ireland for the weekend.

In these six years, Halloween has taken over costume shops and restaurants, schools and bars. In fact, the only people who carved pumpkins at our annual Halloween bash were two little Spanish kids, one dressed as a tiger, and the other ones as a dinosaur.

The new Taste of America store meant we had actual American goodies this year – candy corn, funfetti cupcakes wrapped in Halloween wax paper, napkins with Frankenstein on them. I was once again reminded of how odd it feels to be so American in Seville, and so sevillana in America. It’s always at this time of year that my homesickness creeps in.

On Halloween, I had to put my game face on for work (meaning a plastic cup covered in pink paper). Many of the little kids dressed up, and we made ghosts out of lollipops and spiders out of construction paper. Afterwards, a quiet drink with a friend – a far cry from my first Saiman in Spain.

How did you celebrate Halloween?

Tapa Thursdays: Hamburguesas

“You not liking a hamburger would tell me you’re more Spanish than American,” Samu says as he served us a hamburger, his style, at Taberna la Tata. The mini ox burger has carmelized onions and beets, as well as a healthy dollop of cream cheese, served with buttered carrots. I died. Twice. Turns out I am a hardcore guiri.

In fact, hamburguesa was one of the first words I ever learned in Spanish, so it’s no surprise that the all-beef patties, special sauce (usually mustard)…ended up on menus in Spain.

And I don’t have any qualms ordering it.

What it is: Some type of beef patty, whether from a cow, bull or ox, and usually served in miniature.

Goes great with: It’s ok to say a big, cold Cruzcampo and a fútbol game, right? There are loads of variations on the plate, but the most common are typically carmelized onions and cheese.

Where to find it: Taberna la Tata have served me up two different “burger towers” – the one mentioned above and the one pictured above (I can only vouch for the one on Avion Cuatro Vientos, 105, though there’s another on Avenida la Buhaíra, 17). Another great joint is Bar Viriato right near the Setas, whose portions are oversized and the burgers perfectly seasoned (Calle Viriato, 7). And if you’re looking for a true American burger, you can always pay a ridiculous sum of money to chow down in a Spanish version of Americana at the Friday’s in Nervion Plaza.

Where are your favorite places for burgers in Seville?

Love tapas? Want to see a specific one featured Thursday? Leave me a comment, or post a picture of you eating your favorite tapas to my Facebook page!

Making the Choice to Live Abroad (and Stay)

My first steps in Spain landed in a big wipeout.

Armed with two suitcases, a carry-on and my laptop bag, I tried to hoist my backpack onto my bag, using a round, aluminum can as a platform from which to ease my arms into the padded straps.

Yes, I brought all of that with me. Two free pieces of luggage? Those were the days.

 

And I fell, right on my culo. I roared with laughter, falling over on my side and howling. That’s just kind of been my story in Spain.

After five years of living abroad, I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to live a life abroad in sunny Spain. The reasons that have kept me here are quite simple – ask any of my dozen friends who have been here to visit over the last few years, question my parents, read this blog start to finish in one sitting to really swallow the heartbreak of defeat, the uncertainness of a new relationship, crap work experiences. I have slowly made my life in Spain, from the first few shaky steps and the fall on my butt to establishing my version of happiness in my little burbuja in Seville.

—–

Studying abroad is what made me want to move away from the US in the first place. Perhaps after reading too many of those Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul books, I decided that living abroad was ever going to happen, it needed to be right after graduation.

 

Just days before commencement, the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program offered me  visa and the promise of a job in a high school somewhere in Andalucia. The summer before leaving was full of hurried preparations, tearful goodbyes, and a yo-yo like inner peace with my decision. I kept telling myself it was just eight months, and that no one would be mad at me if I messed up and came home.

My reasons were simple enough: to learn Spanish and travel during a second chance at studying abroad. DJ Yabis, the blogger behind Dream Euro Trip had similar intentions. He writes: I wanted to study and live in Europe so I applied for a prestigious full scholarship (read: tuition, roundtrip flights, insurance and monthly allowance for 2 years) sponsored by the European Commission and GOT IT! Similarly, Mariann Kun-Szabo of tiny girl with a big bag said: I was selected for a scholarship to spend my internship in Spain, with all the costs covered, then I could not stop traveling. Like DJ and Marianne, I had an opportunity fall right in my lap to obtain a visa, work and live in Europe for eight months.

Then suddenly, a week before my plane took off rumbo Madrid, I felt like Spain was where I needed to be. On the plane I went, waving giddily to my parents as I skipped through security at O’Hare and into the International Departures terminal.

My year was not without its ups and downs – I struggled to learn Spanish, had trouble making friends and tried to not think about the life I was putting on hold for a year. Facebook became my enemy, my Skype calls home barely concealed my homesickness. I felt that every label I’d ever used to describe myself had suddenly been stripped away, leaving me fumbling for some sense of self-awareness. But I met the Novio, and he was worth sticking around for. My Spanish Adventure began to take root.

—–

I have started looking at my life in terms of school years, just as I always have. After all, I’m a teacher and a student, and my worklife is measured in school years. My mother said, “Think of Spain as your super senior year of college.” Poor woman didn’t know I’d be on super senior year número six already, but giving myself a few months’ break in between keeps one foot in each bucket – one in España and the other in America. No one is really making my choose just one yet, but I’m sure that will come.

Seville throws me curveballs every other day it seems. If it’s not dropping my clothes out of the window when hanging them to dry (no tumble dryer), it’s the sting of not knowing if I’m always making the right decision. But the feel of the sunshine on my face, the fresh produce and the andalú that has kept me here. If I had to put it down in 25 words or less, I’d write that the folklore, the daily challenges and the blunders have kept me here, not to mention love.

—–

 

When I put the question to my readers, it was clear that moving abroad is a change that many have decided to make. Be it the draw of adventure or to try something new, the promise of fresh love, language learning and running your fingers along walls that have existed far longer than you have. Spain is the romantic realization of sultry Latin dreams and of wild jet-setter nights.

Many of them wrote that they, too, had been lured by Spain’s familiar, yet exotic traditions and the chance to live a new adventure. Jackie’s response that she ended up in her happy place, Shannon remarking “I’d love to live in a place where something centuries old is still considered new. I want the romance of history, culture and new adventures,” and Robin of A Lot of Wind just wanted the adventure: We chose to live abroad because we wanted to reach out and grab a bit of life that wouldn’t have dropped into our laps otherwise! And I just love how Marianne of East of Malaga summed it up: It’s a land of beauty, wine and dance – with always a hint of a little romance ;)

 

And I’m not the only one to follow my heart when it came to sticking around in Seville for more than just the sunshine and siestas. Four readers met their partner while on short-term stays in Spain:

Natalia’s husband danced right into her heart on a week-long trip to la Hispalense: Feria de Sevilla, 2009—I spotted a charismatic Sevillano in a caseta and asked him to dance. Happily married and still dancing sevillanas! while Kaley met hers after a pick-up basketball game in Salamanca while studying abroad: 2009 Salamanca. Basketball win. Hemos quedado. Spilled the wine. Climbed the cathedral. Fell in love. 3 years later: I said yes! And Steph of Discovering Ice uses her boyfriend as the perfect scapegoat for her wanderlust: I was in love with a Colombian who was literally half the world away…we just used travel as an excuse to be together! :)

I sometimes think how different my life in Spain would have been had I not accepted the invitation from Kate to go out the night the Novio and I met. Like Melanie: I met my Spanish husband on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres. One seat away then could have meant a world of difference now.

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Travel Bloggers’s responses interested me, too. As I make connection with like-minded travelers, I find that we have much more in common than the T-word. When it comes down to it, an adventurous spirit and the will to do something about it. When I think back on the times when Spain almost didn’t happen because of my own fears or the unwillingness to miss a Hawkeye Football season, I cringe at being so stupid. Alexandra Kovacova of Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler said: I hate boredom and wanted to learn more about this amazing world out there and different cultures. Raymond Walsh of Man on the Lam confessed: I wanted to cover the earth before it covered me.

Some worldly parents, like Talon Windwalker of 1Dad, 1Kid, 1Crazy Adventures said he “wanted my son to see the world and be raised as a global citizen & I wanted to get more living into our life,” whereas Durant Imboden told me that he “didn’t have a choice” because his parents took him along. My parents encouraged my traveling – even if it was just running from one end of the house to the other when I was a kid – and I feel I owe them for instilling an adventurous spirit and apetite for me, and taking me abroad when I was just old enough to have it stick in my head and put me on a direction for life.

Ash of The Most Alive hit the proverbial clavo on the head: Decided to build my life on the principles of adventure, learning and justice – not the social norms of 9-5 mortgage and retirement…
 
…now there’s something to live and travel up to.
 
Lex of Lex Paradise had the mentality for why I came, seizing a pasing opportunity and fulfilling a dream. He wrote: Well, I am now living in Spain as well ;) never thought but it just happened as it suppose to be ;)” which is why I’ve chosen for him to win the $15 Amazon Gift Card. I loved this project and the responses, so don’t forget that Karen’s book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, full of loads of laughs and sage advice, is available on Amazon for purchase (in paperback and Kindle format).

Seville Snapshots: Merry Christmas from Sunshine and Siestas

Christmas used to mean bickering in my family. The chores, the frantic house cleaning and cooking, the rush of kisses from the in-laws after finally deciding who would be hosting. The constant car trips, the Christmas Mass standing up, the incessant carols blasting from every car radio – I could have done without it.

Then I moved to Spain.

I escape not only the bickering, but also the Christmas carols (I swear I know just the chorus of a handful of Spanish villancicos), the tree hunt looking for Nancy’s perfect Douglas Fir, the snow in Chicago. And somehow along the way, Christmas has become one of the best opportunities I have to see my family. Over the last six navidades that I’ve found myself in Spain, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around Andalusia and Ireland, to Morocco, to The American Southwest. Gone are the holiday traditions we’ve had since forever, as my family and I create world travel as our Christmas treat to one another. I miss watching Morgan step gingerly into the snow when it’s higher than her head and treating Aunt Pat to lunch at the Walnut Room after seeing the windows at Field’s, but helping my family make travel as important to them as it is to me is what fuels the magic for me during the season.

To you and yours, Merry Christmas from me. I am forever grateful for my readers who seem like family more and more each day. Estés donde estés, enjoy this wonderful season, and don’t worry so much about your waistline (dude, Spain has lard cookies as its holiday indulgence, so you can’t be any worse off than me!). Wishing you all the very, very best for 2013 from Spain!

Besos, Cat

Thanksgiving Turkeys and Triumphs

Can I admit something, at the risk of sounding like a bad American?

I never liked Thanksgiving as a kid. My mind keeps going to the hours of preparation at my grandmother’s house, clipping off the ends of green beans and trying to ignore bickering. I’d eat far too much, fall asleep watching football and feel groggy for days straight. Aside from the long weekend, I didn’t see the point of spending a whole day eating and watching TV, all in the name of spending time with family and glorifying a bird.

Then I moved away from America, to a land where cranberries, pecans and even turkeys are scarce (after all, pavo is the Spanish way of say a buck).

All of the sudden, Thanksgiving became a good excuse to get together with those closest to being my kin.

Our Thanksgiving celebrations in my ever-changing group of friends has never been just about us Americans and our traditions – we teach Spaniards about the hand turkey while drinking the garnacha-based wines (which, according to Ask.com, are the best matches for turkey!) and chattering a half a dozen languages.

Yes, I am thankful for my amoeba of culture in Seville – something that is just as much Spanish as American with a smatter of German, Mexican and everything in between.

But this year, I promised Kike a turkey, cranberry sauce and everything that my grandmother made him as breakfast last Christmas in Arizona (he no longer scoffs at my weird breakfast choices – mine is the type of family that eats waffles for dinner and cold leftovers for breakfast). He played his part by bringing back over a few cans of pumpkin and gravy mix and urged me to call on a turkey from a neighborhood carnicería. I began gathering recipes and making a rudimentary plan for how I’d make a full-on Thanksgiving dinner with one oven and two hands.

Then his dumb job sent him abroad nine days earlier than expected, effectively missing Pavo Palooza.

Still, the turkey show must go on, I thought, and I extended the offer to his mother and friend Susana again, not wanting to have to eat turkey bocadillos alone until Reyes.

I was not without challenges, from the lack of a microwave to last-minute changes in the menu due to no  fresh green beans, sage and evaporated milk in the supermarket or even a can opener from the American goodies I brought back with me. There’s a reason I’m the go-to giuri for plastic forks and wine at our parties.

Menu:

Pumpkin Pie. Stuffing. Cornbread. Carrots and Garlic Green Beans. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy. Cranberry Sauce. Turkey. Tinto and Beer.

Turkey: 18,40€

Groceries not at home: 51,59€

New can opener: 5,15€

Total: 85,14€

Even the Brits I work with suggested that I start preparing a schedule ahead of time, and I did: cleaning, pie, vegetables, cornbread and stuffing on Friday, turkey and potatoes on Saturday. I was up before the sun on Saturday when I realized that the evaporated milk I’d refused to buy out of principle was going to be necessary for the pie I was too lazy to make the day before.

I wrote on Kike’s Facebook wall for our anniversary, stating that he would have enjoyed watching me fight with a ten-pound bird more than consuming it. For four hours, I set my alarm every half and hour to give the turkey a little broth bath, nervous if I hadn’t gotten all of the gizzards out or I didn’t let it cook enough inside. When my guests – Carmín, Alejandro, Susana and Inma – showed up right on time, I offered them beer and wine, and they marveled at the sudden transformation of an anti-housewife as I shooed them out of the kitchen. The only person I’d let in was Luna, my friends’ two-year-old daughter, who chowed down on cornbread and checked the status of the turkey.

In the end, the meat was cooked, no one cared that the stuffing was a bit cold and I didn’t end up with too much leftovers. We spent the afternoon laughing, telling jokes and finding places in our stomach to fit more food in. Wanting to do everything al estilo americano, I had to teach them the gravy volcano, explain that they’d probably fall asleep after consuming the turkey and look for American football games on YouTube. I felt lucky (thankful, if you will) about having friends and family who were open to trying out my holiday and easing the ache I sometimes feel for being so far away.

What Kike has got is mala suerte, heaved my beloved Doña Carmen. This food is making me think twice about American cuisine!

Rocking the Vote in Spain

 

Only a teacher would think to bring a map of the United States, a blue marker and a red one, to an Election Day party in Spain.

“Ok, everybody! Teacher’s here with the electoral map!” Lindsay called out as I hung it on the wall under the TV, and I had miniature US flags waved in my face as a show of solidarity in the upstairs bar of Merchant’s Malt House in Seville. I don’t remember if it was a blustery sort of November that we tend to have In Chicago on Election Night, or which states I colored in, tallying up the electoral votes for each candidate. I do remember the elation of knowing the small team, spearheaded by an incredibly savvy and forward-thinking American woman, had registered dozens of study abroad students and American residents to vote from sunny Spain.

For someone who is not overly patriotic, voting is one of the most important responsibilities I feel I have while overseas. In fact, it’s the only ONLY right I don’t have as a resident in Spain, which makes my voice all the more important when every first Tuesday in November rolls around.

Voting abroad is simple, so there’s no reason to not do it! Here’s how to easily cast your ballot from abroad:

First: Make sure you’re actually registered to vote!

Remember all of those civics classes you had to sit through in high school? By now you should know that no one counts as 2/3 of a person and you can vote as a woman, so there’s absolutely no reason on this big Earth why you can’t do it (unless you’re under 18). Registering to vote is an insanely simple process that can be done in person at a local election office, by heading into the DMV, or even by soliciting this information through the mail. If you’re currently abroad, you can print off these forms and mail them back Stateside to your local office.

If you are already overseas, you will have to print out the forms listed on your state’s election website and mail it to your election office, or complete the online registration at the Federal Voter Assistance Program. You’ll need to provide basic information, including your driver’s licence number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Second: Educate yourself, duh.

I don’t like no stupids, so please be a good person and do your research (this article is strictly non-partisan, so make sure your candidate’s ideals are lined up with your own! It’s all about knowledge, friends!)

Third — Request an Absentee Ballot

Click to the FVAP’s site, choose request an absentee ballot and click on the state you are registered to vote in. Using the Wizard, carefully fill in your pertinent information about where your ballot should be sent. You can request the ballot by email, fax or regular mail. Do note that, using this method, you can mail in the registration and the ballot at the same time.

You’ll receive a PDF with all of your information. This must be printed, signed and dated, then sent to your local election office. I faxed my request into my local office and received my write-in ballot not 12 hours later.

Finally – Cast your ballot and enjoy elections parties around Spain on November 6th!

Your local election office will send you the PDF form of a write-in ballot. your state will have its own regulations about how to return the ballot and whether there is additionally information (Illinois, for example, requires a secrecy waiver). Send it certified and let your voice count!

DA is planning a massive tri-city simultaneous party for the big night, meant to be a sort of gala fundraiser.  I’ve been speaking with the president of the Seville organization, but plans are not finalized. Get in touch with me through my Facebook page for more information, or to help out (possibility of a paid position!).

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