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September 21, 2003

The last night in Berlin

What better way to spend my last night in Berlin than in an internet cafe run in conjuction with a Dunkin Donuts? It's funny, isn't it, the places life brings us.

It's 1 AM and I am trying to stay up late to 1) start to adjust to Colorado time, and 2) be able to sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep on the plane, because planes have tried my patience of late and I don't want to go crazy.

Today was a travel day, just a short preview of what's to come. I spent the morning in Majadahonda (my 'home town' in Spain) trying to find some abanicos (fans) for friends because I think fans are a wonderful invention that Americans just for some reason haven't latched on to. The only ones I found were ugly, so I settled instead for some churros--really greasy, crispy, fried batter which gets dipped in hot chocolate to make up a typical Spanish breakfast. I'm not bringing the churros home to the States, though. I brought them home to my host sister, and we ate them up yum. This week is all about unhealthy but really tasty food. Fats and sugars.

I bussed to Madrid and took the metro (subway) to the airport, and from there flew to Amsterdam. I think both airports suck. Well, the signage in both airports sucks. In the Amsterdam airport, I was followed by a random man who was also on my flight to Berlin. On my way to use the phone, he saw me pass and said 'You are very nice' and followed me up the stairs. As it turns out, I wasn't very nice to him. He appeared beside me at the phone booth as I tried to place a call to my hotel in Berlin to tell them I was delayed. You have telefonica? he asked, and the operator had just picked up and he was hard to understand besides, so I thought I could ignore him and act busy and he would go away. Four operators and a nice chat with the receptionist at the hotel later, he was still there. You are very nice, he said again. You are with telefonica? I don't actually know what he was asking, but that's what it sounded like. Maybe he thought I worked for the phone company. No, I said, I am not from here. From Berlin? No. You are German? No. Where are you from? The United States, I said, and he was happy. I would like to talk to you, he said, if you have time. I wondered how I could be very, very busy while waiting for the delayed plane. I have to check on my plane, I said, and went back downstairs to the gate. It was his gate, too. He followed. He was smiling.

I watched the news. I was very, very busy watching the news. What do you want from me? I wanted to ask him, but that would mean getting up and going over to sit by him. And, still adjusting to English--his broken English, at that--I just couldn't be bothered to attempt a difficult conversation. Some people are strange. Maybe to him his behavior is perfectly normal, but that's strange, too. I was edgy for quite some time, until the waiting area started to fill and there were segments about natural disasters on the news and enough time had passed without my new friend trying again to approach me. Through the flight, I schemed about what I would do if he tried to follow me to my hotel, how I would find a policeman and would ask if he spoke English and he would and I would ask him to accompany me to my hotel because I was being followed by this man, and I would be able to point directly to the man because he would be following right behind me happily because he's weird like that, and he still wouldn't take the hint, and then what would I do? I wouldn't want to be stuck in the hotel, I'd want to at least go down and eat, so what then with the policeman? Can you hire out policemen in Berlin for the evening? As it turns out, I haven't seen the man since we got on the plane. Man in an elegant khaki suit, eyes of clear brown, calling eyes, eyes of sand and camels and desert wind. At least there's the eyes. Other than that, though, he was weird.

I leave the hotel tomorrow morning before the free breakfast, and head off in bus to the airport. A day of flying, and I'll get into Denver around 7PM. Ah, back to work. Hopefully, before I get wrapped up in the next something, I'll have some time to post some entries from these past two weeks, because I definately have some stories and pictures which I'd like to share.

For now, though, a donut, and I'll return to the hotel. Hope all is well with all of you.

Posted by beth at 12:06 PM | Comments (4)

September 20, 2003

Europe Part 2: Spain

Eduardo (or Aita—the word for father in the language of northern Spain) is waiting for me just outside the baggage claim area, in the same way he waited for me eleven years ago when I met him for the first time. This time, no sign needed. I know exactly who he is, and he knows me. His hair is a bit longer, and much of it is now silver, but otherwise he is the same.

He takes me straight to an exchange student orientation, for high school students who arrived just the day before. He would like me to share a few words on my experience. I feel silly giving them advice, pretentious, and I know they are probably already sick of being talked at, but I say what I think might have helped me. The things that I was never told that I wish I would have been prepared for. Be patient with yourselves, I said. And that three-month magic you-will-be-fluent timeline that everyone always tells you about? Forget about it.

My Spanish is much better than it was ten years ago. Ten years ago being when I left Spain, not when I arrived. I slipped with surprising ease into a world of Spanish thoughts and phrases, with the Spanish coming more readily than the English and the Spanish accent easier than I’d remembered it. Oh, what time will do. (Thank you, time.)

After the meeting, to which my sister had also arrived—I had to greet her for the first time on stage—we three, sister, father, and me, headed home for lunch. A comer! It was one of my favorite calls eleven years ago. I love to eat. Home at last—how I’ve wanted to return to this place. The kitchen is completely remodeled, a room gone and another created, but the rest of the flat is the same. On the door of my little brother’s room, which before was decorated with stuffed animals, is a Bob Marley poster. Yet he is the same endearing Edu, just older.

The week was too packed to summarize, so I will have to resort to a few pics with captions. The week in photos:

THE FAMILY


Aita and Ibon, my older host brother.


Noami, Ibon's girlfriend, and my host mother, Mari Carmen (Ama).


The abuelo's cena (dinner). My mother's father moved in from his own flat in Madrid just a few short weeks before I arrived. Not understanding my family's new-fangled kitchen, he buses and subways home to Madrid occasionally, buys seafood, cooks it in his flat, and subways and buses it back to Majadahona (about a 25 minute trip). On the menu: shrimp, muscles (which he brought fresh rather than cooking), and octopus.

MADRID WITH EDU


Me with Tio Pepe. This one's for Bridget. Puerta del Sol.


Museum of Ham. Those are legs of pork hanging in the window.


Toilet paper sculpture. And me. Plaza Mayor.


Spanish truffles are one of the best things ever. Edu and me.


Street in Madrid.

TOLEDO AND MADRID WITH BILL AND JESS

My friend Bill, who I met in Costa Rica, and his wife Jess met up with me on their honeymoon in Spain, which happened to coincide with my visit. They're crazy. But it was great to see Billy, and to meet Jess.


Bill and Jess.


Street in Toledo.


Cathedral interior.


Candles in cathedral.


Window of sword store in Toledo.


Buildings.


MADRID ALONE


Velazquez outside the Prado.


Crystal Palace (and moon) in Madrid's Parque del Retiro.


My afternoon in el Retiro.


Retiro's centerpiece.


Moncloa--the meeting spot of my exchange student friends back in 92/93.


McDonalds, our unfortunate point of convergence. Commonly, though, we'd move to the bar next door for some cerveza (only the guys, as it turns out) and tortilla de patata. I went back to find this bar, and check out the downstairs--we'd once ventured downstairs, only to find people drinking out of very long straws in a dark, black-lit room which creeped us out--but the downstairs of the bars in the vicinity apparently only have bathrooms now. So, instead, I had a calimocho (mix of red wine and Coca-Cola) with the nice bartender and a nice patron.


I did, though, have to peak around the corner at another sometimes-destination of ours: The Crazy Chicken.

MAJADAHONDA (my town)


Fiesta on Main Street (La Gran Via).

The bullring:

Rules for la corrida (the running of the bulls):


Men playing bocci ball (I can't remember the Spanish name) in the park. This one's for Tanja, Jacqui, and Tom.


Women on the town.

Posted by beth at 4:13 PM

September 17, 2003

SPAIN

I’m in Spain! With a funky keyboard and two languages battling in my mind, but only when I’m working in English—Spanish does just fine to hold it’s own, luckily, but when I switch to English—for e-mail, for example—the English is shaky and weak, and the Spanish pushes it’s way in so that I think of the Spanish first (primero) and I have to hold it down while the English has a chance to surface.

I’m in Spain. Hace diez ańos que no estoy aqui, it’s been ten years that I’ve been gone. Ten years. Te lo crees? Do you believe it?

What I find most striking is not the things that have changed, but the things that haven’t. Me, for example—Pero eres exactamente igual, my friends tell me. Exactly the same. What they can’t see is that in the meantime, I shaved and regrew my hair, I started and finished two degrees, I´ve burnt and peeled on four or more different continents in snow and in water and in mountains. I can’t see these things in them, either. Miguel and Oscar look exactly the same, Ruben has more hair and Checho less, my hermana has less and David has less and Edu has more and so on, but this is only hair. After ten years, it’s just hair.

The town has changed. The town is bigger, sprawling farther, and the Gran Via has changed from a major road to a pedestrian mall. Streets shooting off from the mall are full of restaurants with tables spilling into the street, and there is a tapas bar which is warmed by elegant yellow lighting reminiscent of fancy bars in San Francisco. This could be the new Boulder.

And here I am, after a week in Germany. Here I am, on day—what is it now? Day four in Espańa. Day 4! And already I have been out until 5 AM with my brother, seen old friends from three different social circles, spent a day in Madrid with my younger brother, have gotten a massage, and have eaten chorizo, murcilla, mejillones, almejas, caracoles, pescado, tortilla de patata, pan, gazpacho, y arroz con gambas. That translates to sausage, blood sausage, muscles, clams, snails (escargo), fish, tortilla de patatas, bread, gazpacho, and rice and shrimp. Mmmmm.

And now my stomache calls. Today is not a very organized day, thus I’ll spend it around here in Majadahonda, walking around and reading and writing and whatever else comes up. Oh, and eating. Did I mention eating? How I love to eat…

Posted by beth at 1:45 AM | Comments (3)

September 13, 2003

Europe Part 1: Germany

Talk about planes, trains, and automobiles. This is how I got to the ISAES (International Society for Antarctic Earth Science) meeting in Potsdam, Germany, starting at 5:20 AM: I drove Steve’s car, which I’d been borrowing, to Steve’s house. I took a taxi to the bus station in Boulder. I took a bus to the airport. I flew to Chicago, then to Frankfurt, then to Berlin. I took a bus from the airport to the train station. I took a train to Potsdam. I walked straight to the meeting. Arrived 11 AM local, 3 AM Boulder time. I would have arrived earlier, had I not: 1) just missed a train at the train station due to general confusion (mine), and 2) missed my stop in Potsdam due to general confusion (mine). I heard the station announced, thought it sounded like mine, hesitated, then got up to go downstairs, found a door, realized I didn’t know how to open it, pressed the green button. I could see by the station name on the platform that the station was indeed the one I wanted, and I tried pushing the green button again. I hurriedly walked to another door and pushed the green button. The train started to pull away. I watched the station name grow farther away. Shoot. So, I got off at the next stop, and waited for a train coming back the other way.

At the meeting, I couldn’t stay awake, so I walked back to the train station. I found a cab and took it to my hotel. They weren’t ready for me to check in. I went to wait outside, at their restaurant on the river. Ah, how nice, to have a drink outside and relax and let the work mentality from the previous week ebb away into the river and let the feel of Germany take over. I figured I’d order a beer. I’m in Germany, after all, I figured. As though I wouldn’t have any other opportunity to drink one during the week. I don’t know German. I pointed to something. The something had “Berliner” in it, which I figured meant it was from Berlin, which was pretty close to being local. The bartender gave two sub-choices. I chose one. She mixed two things in a glass. The liquid was pink. Pink? And I thought I ordered beer. But I’m up for adventure, so that’s okay. I paid and found my table by the river. Took my journal out, kicked up my feet, took a sip of the drink which tasted vaguely of beer—beer mixed with raspberry seltzer?—and thought about how good life was, how nice it was to be sipping a drink (beer or not) by a river in Germany with nothing to do but kick up my feet and relax and watch the river and dammit why isn’t my room ready? I’m just about falling asleep over here, I don’t think I can stand this river anymore, this drink was obviously a bad idea, and if I don’t hit a bed soon I might prove a disgrace to the hotel and its guests and the meeting and …

I hit a bed soon. Take a nap, get up, go to the reception for the pre-meeting I had skipped out on that morning, then go to the general meeting-wide reception. It was a good plan, a responsible plan even. And, it worked, except for the part where I slept through the pre-meeting reception. You can’t win them all.

The rest of the week consisted of general meeting shenanigans, with a German twist. Talks during the day, poster sessions in the evenings. ‘The poster sessions start at 5?’ I exclaimed. ‘Who’s going to go at 5? That’s dinner time!’ ‘We’re in Europe,’ my new friend reminded me. Oh, yes, dinner is later. Plus, there was free beer at the poster sessions, every night. This was a very good move—the poster sessions were very well attended and, I must say, productive.

The meeting was mostly hard-rock (what rocks are where, and why) and not so much geodetic (what’s moving where, and why). Still, it was interesting to see what’s going on in general in the international Antarctic Earth science world. As you may know or remember, McMurdo Station, where I work in Antarctica, is a U.S. base, so I meet mostly scientist from American programs down there. This meeting was a good introduction to the international nature of Antarctic research—a German program, Australian, Argentine, Italian, Spanish, etc. Although jet lag and sleep dep. kept me from appreciating most the talks, I did gain a new interest in understanding Antarctic tectonics.

But enough about the science. On Tuesday, I blew the talks off (there was little of research interest to me that day) to go to Berlin. I saw the Berliner Dome, took a nap on a park bench, walked through the medieval sector of town. Ate a brat bought from a street vendor. Being a responsible person, I took the train back to Potsdam in plenty of time to make it to the poster session, since mine would be up that evening. I arrived to the hotel about 3, laid down to take a short nap, and awoke at 5:15. 5:15? But the poster sessions start at 5! Hurry, hurry, run downstairs, call a taxi, arrive to the poster session at 5:45. My new friends, who already know me too well, are shaking their heads. Asleep? they ask. Yes, I say. Luckily, Phil had already told me he would cover for me if I arrived late, and he was happily chatting away with someone by the poster.

Several of the Ozzies I’d been hanging out with had given talks that day, and with them done with their talks and with me done with my poster, we were ready for a big night out. Dinner and then drinks, which paved the way for some absolutely hilarious conversation that I can’t tell you about. What I can tell you about is my prophet.

I met a prophet on Tuesday night. Can prophets be stumbling drunk German men who walk around town with big picnic-table umbrellas? I think they can. This one came into the pub with another man, and leaned over to me and began talking immediately. We were seated by the door. By this point, I was the only woman in our group. His English was good, but his ability to communicate was not. (Sometimes, we must have patience with our prophets.) ‘Your voice,’ he said. ‘I heard it from outside. It is a radio voice, the voice on the radio in California you know? Eh, it’s sunny and 30 degrees, and welcome to California. I heard it and I knew.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to be so loud.’ I didn’t remember talking recently in our conversation, but I must have been, and I can certainly get a little hyper. ‘Like in California,’ he went on. ‘On the radio, you know? You understand me?’ Are you kidding me? ‘Yes,’ I said, warmly, ‘I think so.’

He came back again later, maybe twice even, and clarified. Again leaning over me, again with all the guys at the table waiting and wondering whether to break in, whether to fish me out or to let him go on. ‘Your soul is your voice,’ he said. ‘You understand me? I heard it, and I knew. You have to use it. You are a speaker. You understand me?’ I’m glad we left the California analogy. Yes, you may be crazy and you may not know what you’re saying, but I understand you now.

We left the bar the same time he did. His companion had left while he was in the bathroom. The prophet, on his way out, picked up a closed umbrella of the type used to shelter tables outside, and carried it down the street while singing “My Way.” I’m not quite sure what his way is, but it’s certainly different from that of most people I know.

Wednesday, the meeting coordinators had planned a boat trip along the river. The meeting ended early for the day, and we all loaded onto a big boat, where we lounged in the sun and drank free beer.

Thursday, we were treated to a conference dinner in a lovely pub. More food and wine and beer and general merriment. Then, we went to a club. It seemed like a good idea until the next morning. Okay, even then it seemed like a good idea. Friday, four of us went up to Berlin for a quiet night. We bought a five-person metro pass rather than four individual passes, because it was cheaper, and decided the fifth would be our imaginary dog, Funfi. I named Funfi because I think funf is a hilarious word and had asked Florian (German) how he could say it with a straight face, ever. Florian taught me to count in German. Funf is five. I could not keep a straight face while saying it. Or was our fifth our imaginary child? I can’t remember. Our dog had a name; our child didn’t. Mark was charged with the responsibility of taking care of Funfi while he stayed on after the meeting to work with one of his committee members. Mark? Funfi?

Our quiet night in Berlin consisted of a nice, authentic German Mexican restaurant with margaritas and a team promoting Desperados, our new favorite drink anyway, giving away little Desperado lizard keychains, and afterwards a pub where we could sit facing the street and drink beer and listen to the crowd down the way cheer every time a prostitute got into a car. We returned to the hotel at 2 AM. Florian’s alarm went off at 4 AM. So soon? Pack up the things, say goodbyes—goodbye, Steve, Mark, Florian—and head down to the street. Bus to airport (sleep in bus), wait (sleep in airport), fly to Amsterdam (sleep in plane; man getting off plane kindly wakes me to indicate that we’re at the gate and that the majority of the passengers have already deplaned), wait (sleep… you get the idea), fly to Madrid. Freshen up. Find restroom, wash face, brush teeth, comb hair. Set out into the world to find my host dad.

Posted by beth at 11:03 PM

September 4, 2003

Back on the Air

I have a cell phone again!

Posted by beth at 9:42 AM