Monday, January 28, 2008

This will be embarrassing

"Do you know enough Spanish that you could write 1 paragraph in it next time you blog? Then translate it for us who don't know it. Just a thought, that way we can see the progress you're making. "

Sure.

Rather than pretend I know words I don't, I'll keep words I don't know in English. I could go to Google translate and look up the word but what would that show? That I know how to use the web?

Es Lunes! No hay nuevos estudiantes in la clase hoy. Cual es loco porque yo veo ocho personas testing en la manana. La clase en la manana estaba muy facil. Mucho review. Todos los personas tenian un bueno fin de semana pero dos o tres personas han trabajado demasiado. Mi novia y yo teniemos un traquilo fin de semana. Un poco tinto y mucho veo le tele y leyendo libres. En la noche de Domingo teniemos cena en el restaurante "Kourgi." Wendy tenia pollo y para mi, buey, muy poco hecho.

It's Monday! No new students in class today. Which is crazy because I saw 8 people testing in the morning. The class this morning was very easy. A lot of review. Everyone had a good weekend but two or three people worked too much. My girlfriend and I had a quiet weekend. A little red wine, a lot of TV and a lot of reading books. Sunday evening we had dinner at the restaurant "Kourgi". Wendy had chicken and for me - steak, rare (literally - very little done.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Angelina Jolie joins the class.

Spanish class goes in waves. It ebbs and flows depending on the teacher, the students and how smart my feeble brain feels like being that day. At the school I am at now, we have the same teacher in the morning but in the afternoon, we have a different teacher every two to three days to get us used to different accents and speeds of speech.

On a good day, I will be in a class of interesting, like-level students and my brain will randomly decide to remember everything I’ve learned about Spanish. The afternoon teacher will arrive with games and discussion that I find interesting, and I will have to rein myself in from speaking too much and dominating the conversation. I will leave with a smile on my face and will have had a great day.

On a bad day, I will be in a class with listless, boring students or perhaps students that have been studying Spanish for a decade and are only here for the next few weeks for a review. And when I say “for a review” translate that as “to make me feel as dumb as a donut.” In the afternoon, the teacher will come in and speak way too fast, the other students will understand (having studied Spanish for a decade) everything the teacher just said and I and three other students will sit there wondering what’s going on. Then all of us will be mortified in turn when the teacher calls on us. Or she’ll show up with a list of vocabulary words and write them on the board and there will be no discussion what-so-ever.

Two Fridays ago (Jan 18th) I had an awesome Spanish class. Montse was the vocabulary teacher in the afternoon and she is one of my top two favorite Spanish teachers I have ever had. She is a little younger than I, short, pretty, and not afraid to use English to explain a concept. What you might not know is that everyone speaks English. If Montse can’t act out a verb or phase, she’ll happily just resort to English and every nationality in the class immediately knows what she means.

Everyone.

I love that. Nothing frustrates me more than a teacher trying to explain a word that means some vague esoteric feeling using a bunch of Spanish words most of the class doesn’t understand.

When I first started in this school Montse was the teacher that I had in the mornings for grammar. That was a great class. She made me feel comfortable right away, and my classmates were excellent. Most of them were brand new students (like me) and only a couple were reviewing what they had done, which was very little.

There was the irreverent Weitze who didn’t take the teacher's request very serious ("Weitze, put the dictionary away!" or "Weitz, finish your beer!") and always had a joke. He was Dutch, spoke perfect English, was nicely groomed and wore an ascot every day because his "neck gets cold." He hated the quirks of the Spanish language and let us all know it. We had some fine bitch sessions.

There was Daniel from Germany. This was a repeat for him and like many Europeans, he used his vacation time to come to Madrid and learn another language. (What? How foreign is that from American?) Daniel is back for the third time and repeating the exercises he did last year. He was quiet, thin, and a little bit shorter than me.

A very pretty Italian girl whose name I don’t remember because I’m an awful writer and should have taken notes…

Emily from England. Rail thin, twenty, witty, cheerful and surprisingly beautiful.

Weitze’s roommate - another very nice guy whose name I don’t remember. Thin, polite, about twenty years old. In two months he was going to Central America for a job. A Spanish speaking job. Good luck!

Another German girl with a thick, thick accent that was the most experienced Spanish speaker of all of us but I couldn’t understand a word she said.

Masa, the tiny Japanese guy who is still at the school today, far ahead of me but we speak at lunch sometimes during break. Well, he speaks and I nod, secretly wondering if I should be nodding or shaking my head.

Most of them had very little Spanish. Like me, this was their first time or they were only repeating the lesson we were on once. I’ve found many times that I’ll be put into a class with people who test at my level, but have actually had years of Spanish or have been studying it off and on for a decade before attending this class. Not so this time!

Those were my first classmates in the new school. And Montse was the teacher. We had a blast. I loved Spanish then. The afternoon classes were a bit tougher since some of the teacher’s suuuuuuuck with a capital suck, but it didn’t matter so much because I wasn’t the only one lost, everyone was lost. Yay! I didn’t feel dumb as a donut because we were all just a big box of dumb donuts. There was solidarity to our big dumb donutness.

“Well, that sucked” I would say when class ended. And everyone would laugh and agree and then we’d go out for beers and pizza and talk about how awful the professor was.

The students in my current class are quite a bit different. Two German girls who are both pretty good at Spanish, but quiet and sedate so they don’t have long rambling discussions with the teacher I can’t follow. Then there are the three nuns. Literally. No joke there, they have head scarves and everything. One is from the Congo, one from Uganda, and the last from the Philippines.

The class is taught by Pilar. Another tiny Spaniard she stands about 4’11 with short black hair. She has two kids and likes to sing. So much so she sings a lot in class. She will sing phases in Spanish, address us in singsong, and sing verbs to us. She’s quite a trip. Sadly and badly she likes to assign us a lot of homework. Double or even triple the amount the other teachers do. When the vocabulary teachers enter in the afternoon, they will look at the board in wonder and comment on how many exercises Pilar has written on the board for our homework. I told her this on Friday and she explained that we were all doing review, we knew all this stuff and it was simple for us. Once it got hard (groan, this is easy?) she would lighten the load.

At the end of the class she assigned exercises 48-51, 67, 69, 72, 125, 187-194, and then went insane and wrote 199, 200, 201, all the way up to 210. Everyone in the class laughed at the absurdity and simultaneously groaned. None of us could believe it. Five exercises is an hour’s work. Then a notion hit me and I flipped to the back of the book.

The exercises ended at 198.

I smiled. “Pilar, Pilar, Pilar.”

She held a finger to her lips, shushed me and smiled.

Monday morning we all had a good laugh.

So, as I said, Friday was awesome. I left confident, happy and amused. I went to class Monday full of vim and vigor and that lasted until two new students joined us. Both Italian. Italians are the bane of my existence in Spanish class. Italian is so similar to Spanish it would be like me flying to England or Australia and taking an English course. The accent and local slang would throw me off, but I’m pretty sure I could understand what was going on pretty easily.

Thirty minutes into the class, it was already a nightmare. The male of the two would interrupt the teacher with some finer point of grammar and they would talk and laugh for thirty minutes and then the course would resume. In the afternoon, it was worse. When two people are so far ahead of the rest of the class, the teacher doesn’t seem to realize it. They think that everyone in the class is at that level so the professor will get done a twenty minute conversation with them and the rest of us will wonder what we’re discussing, what’s already been said, and whether to say if we agree or disagree.

I came home completely disheartened. Three nuns, two Italians, two Germans and me. Not a good class. I don’t see a whole lot of after school beer, pizza and kibitzing in my future.

Tuesday, the male Italian came in, picked his books off the table and moved to another class.

He was replaced by Angelina Jolie.

Her Spanish is almost the exact same level as mine. Her actual name is Katrina and she’s from England. She has the same type of features as people like Angelina Jolie and Chef / TV host Spankme Lickme. The thin frame, straight shoulder length hair, big eyes, thin face and impossibly pouty swollen lips.

It’s wonderful having another native English speaker in the class, because, honestly, we suck. In all of the classes I’ve been in, the people that struggle the most are native English speakers. Not a one of us is used to learning which nouns are masculine and which are feminine. Not a one of us is used to conjugating hundreds of verbs, or using accents above characters that change a words entire meaning. Many, many languages do this. Not English.

The next few days in class are excellent. Lily (German girl) and Katrina knew each other, so they opened up in class and it got more interesting. Lily and Hannah (the other German girl) started talking more, and the Italian girl that was still with us is much quieter than the male of the species so she talks enough to be interesting but doesn’t dominate and throw off the curve.

The nuns… still pretty quiet.

Thursday our afternoon vocabulary teacher changed and he was a kick in the ass. Andres is overflowing with life and energy and humor. And oddly enough, for a native Spaniard, spoke slowly and clearly. Pilar is my second favorite teacher and Andres is now tied for first with Montse. And he loved me. When I spoke of my love of Jamon, Rioja and Garlic (which is in every food in Spain) we bonded. ("How can you eat food without garlic?" he asked the class.) He kept the class talking, the subjects were interesting, he wrote down phases and explained things well and thoroughly and by the end of the class we had bonded even more. Friday was another excellent day in both the morning and the hilarious afternoon. Sadly, that was Lily and Hannah’s last day.

Monday will be scary. Will the class get more nuns? A couple more Italians?

Hopefully a few more native English speakers that can struggle right alongside me and Katrina.

Wouldn't that be nice?

Monday, January 14, 2008

"You sound awful. Stay away from me."

Remember when you were a kid and you get to stay home when you were sick? How many days of school did you miss?

I remember one.

When you were sick, you were better the next day. Not so with today's new SUPER VIRUSES! YAY! I can't remember the last time I was sick for one day (other than a hangover.) No one I know gets sick for one day.

It's clear that soon we will be living in a post apocalyptic Hell akin to Stephen King's "The Stand" or Richard Matheson's "I am Legend." Yes, the flu keeps getting stronger and now lasts weeks instead of a day. I'm on day 6 right now and can't wait for this damn thing to be over. I'm sick of waking up in a pile of snot. I'm sick of feeling like someone has stuffed forty pounds of cotton candy between my ears. I'm sick of coughing.

Thankfully, I have yet to shoot liquid out of both ends as illustrated by my classy Spanish teacher. Thank God for that.

Time for another Hot Toddy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gah!

I'm sick.

I returned to classes Tuesday and was informed that Madrid has been hit with a plague. Many students and teachers out last week. The lovely Montse (our teacher) talked at length of the malady, eventually drawing a man on the board with liquid coming out of both ends.

Nice!

Wednesday I started feeling like I was going to hurl in the middle of the afternoon class. Deciding I would rather be trapped in a bathroom at home than at school, I left class early and came home. Stomach was upset most of the day but made it through with no liquid coming out either end.

Thursday morning I woke up feeling fine. Went to class and half an hour in started to feel woozy and fluey. Had to blow my nose every two minutes. Made it through the morning class and skipped the afternoon class. Wendy made me some Theraflu and I dropped into a deep slumber on the couch. I woke up and didn't know who or where I was for about thirty seconds.

Now - answering email and updating the web site (You call this an update Wakefield?) and going back to bed. Was hoping to talk about the return and Three King's day and how Christmas is Halloween in Spain with candy, costumes and all.

Next time I guess.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Couch

Thank you all for the input, looks like I’m sticking with plan one. Classes resume tomorrow.

Have I told you about my new couch? It’s very Joey and Chandler.

As detailed a couple entries ago, Wendy and I worked on my house this visit stateside and got rid of two couches and needed a sectional to replace them. We stopped in at a place my folks recommended “Bub’s Barn” (funny huh) and I fell in love with the first two we looked at. One of them was a brilliant green, the other a sickening brown, but both very comfortable. The green one had recliners WITH cup holders at each end of the sectional. I sank into one blissfully and extended the feet, looking at her with a mix of joy and eager anticipation.

“Cup holders are tacky.”

Oh. Damn.

We spent a good portion of that day stopping in at six other furniture stores and looking at what they had. None of the other places had anything that caught “our” eye. I saw one sectional that put the green couch to shame with more recliners, cup holders and bigger everything. And at the bargain price of only twice what the first one cost! Again I sank into it and reclined with a big grin on my face.

“We’re not getting recliners and cup holders so stop smiling.”

In the dark lizard recesses of my brain I thought “You can be replaced…”

We returned home that day empty handed and discouraged by the thought that even if we did pick a couch, it had to be ordered and wouldn’t arrive for six to eight weeks. So we wouldn’t even benefit from it until we came home in the summer.

The next day we drove back down to Boston to pick up Wendy’s Visa. On the way home we discussed many things. Even on a four hour ride to Boston with the radio off, we never run out of things to talk about. She'll explain to me the intricacies of practicing Law in New York or the latest findings on Super String thoery and I'll tell her why I like pie or Why Superman is so much cooler than Batman. It all works out. One of today’s subjects was couches and Bub’s Barn. Because Bub’s Barn had the cheapest and best sectional we saw. And, it was a floor model, which means that we could have it in “as soon as they can ship it” time.

Hence-



And a large portion of my brain thought about Beautiful Wendy and decided – You can stay. Merry Christmas! (Left to right - Doug, Joshie, Heather, Hilary, Michele, Beautiful Wendy, Deb, Leigh.)

Friday, January 4, 2008

I need your help faithful reader.

Yes, two posts in two days, can you tell the Holiday season is over?

I'm back baby, and I need your help.

Of the following two plans, which is smarter?

The current plan is for the primary focus to be learning Spanish (and trust me, the “learn Spanish” part is immutable) and then get back to writing. Of course the web site would be updated sometimes and I would be transcribing notes for the upcoming book “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just European” but none of that would see Lulu print (re – Quest for the Pro Tour.) See, under the current plan, everything I have written is going to sit on my hard drive for months. But when it is published it will be much more refined.

A man who shares my love of UFC and I assume Magic, Chris McMahon, has become my editor. And the amount of editing I need is staggering. The man has an excellent eye for detail and I think we’re up to revision five of “Quest for the Pro Tour” now, with a ways to go yet. (Note – “Quest for the Pro Tour” was formerly published as “Tournament Reports.” I don’t want anyone thinking that I have a new book they need to download or buy and be pissed at me.)

The professional thing to do is to make sure that everything is perfect and proper before I publish it on Lulu. The problem with that is, it’s going to be a long time before anyone sees anything new from me. A longer time before I might be “discovered” by one of those sites or people that just all of a sudden launches your career. It’s going to be a couple more months of Spanish until I can focus on writing again. And then the first thing I need to do is make sure “Quest for the Pro Tour” is perfect. Then make sure “Marilyn’s Story” is perfect. Then collect all the various rambles I have about travel in Europe for that book, make sure it’s perfect, and publish that.

That is months and months and months away.

But, it is the professional way to do things. The proper and right way to do things.

Plan number two is entitled – well, something gross involving a fan and a wall, I think you know the saying. Under this plan, I upload the latest version of “Quest for the Pro Tour” so at least the version out there is better than the one out there now. Then I collect all my Magic writings since then into another loose collection of columns and stories and put that on Lulu for anyone who wants to read about PT Dallas, PT NJ, trying for multiple seasons to qualify and failing and then retiring for five years and coming back and failing again.

Inspiring huh?

After that, publish “Marilyn’s Story” which only needs a little more work. I’ve collected all the blog entries, added to them, made it more of a story, had Marilyn’s journal added to it, the get well cards, obituary, eulogies and final sympathy cards and aftermath all collected into one document.

It’s a tear-jerker and I think it’s pretty damn great and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to read it. But then, I don’t know why anyone reads sad books and goes to sad movies so I’m clearly not the target audience. But its good damn it! Its Oprah “Book of the Month” quality in the sense that it’s a great portrait of a brave woman, insightful, enlightening about this horrible disease and it makes you bawl.

No one will see it for six months at the very earliest if I follow plan number one. If I follow plan number two it could be an HBO mini series by then!

Or, if I follow plan number two, no one will give it a glance because it’s clearly not perfected yet. It has a LOT of care in it, but certainly not enough to be published by a major house.

It’s the perfection that’s killing me! And the perfection is important, right? Right?

It’s just, I have all this material and all I can see in front of me before it’s released for people to see is months of Spanish and then months of editing. Arggg!!!!

I'd appreciate your thoughts in the comments section.

(You don’t have to register to publish your comments on this blog, you can post anonymously.)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What? Really?

You have to be joking.

My last update was in November?

I suck.

(As you read this entry, keep track in your mind all of the things we did in three short weeks.)

Wendy and I returned to the states in early December. She’s legal now so she had to get a bunch of stuff done for her Visa which involved going down to Boston twice and up to Burlington thrice. And of course, since I’m a man, I hadn’t done any Christmas shopping so Josh and I went up to Burlington again one day without Wendy to take care of that. Then it was up to Burlington again for dinner with Hilary and Michele and more shopping. And then we decided we needed a new couch so we drove around Vermont looking for the best one.

I used to drive 4 miles to work and home again. That was usually it. In the three weeks we were home I put the equivalent of 97 weeks of work worth of mileage on my car. As always when we return to the states, it is almost never endingly busy.

There’s a lot to do.

This trip home’s primary job was fixing up the house and making it much more a “Wendy and Jamie’s house” than a “bare walls and beer smelling rug.” As mentioned once already today, I’m a man. When Marilyn passed away, I tried to turn the house more into my house than “Marilyn and Jamie’s house.” Marilyn liked an old Americana style combined with pictures of dogs and children. I liked the dogs part but a little girl praying over breakfast with a dog at her side did nothing for me. So, I took those down and put up some Superman and Dragonlance posters.

Let me tell you, the ladies were impressed.

Marilyn kept and designed a beautiful house. But, like all married couple’s houses, it was a bit more designed to her tastes than mine. I never complained or tried to change it because, once again, I’m a man. Men don’t get a whole lot of say in what the house looks like, sorry. We get “the den” and “the garage,” if we’re lucky. (You should see my dad’s den. Full to bursting with girly mags, Vargas prints, “Peanuts” books, guns and deer heads. Not kidding. Not even a little.)

Ask yourself this – When was the last time you walked into a married couples house and saw a moose head hanging on the wall? How about a stolen road sign? How about a flashing neon sign boldly proclaiming your favorite beer?

That’s right.

This summer I practically begged Wendy to become more comfortable in my house. Help me design it so that she felt more at home there. So this winter it was time to fix the bathroom door (like Doug or I cared that it swung open just as you sat down or were showering), get rid of two very uncomfortable 14 year old couches, clean out the junk drawer, buy the cooking pots, pans and utensils she needed, hang up some of her pictures, repair some other annoying things that we men had just decided to walk around or avert our eyes rather than fix - and a few other things.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to add Christmas, dinners with families and friends and three poker nights, all of which Wendy finished in the top three and one in which she won. (Okay, she will tell you she didn’t win, she split with Bingham. But at my house, that’s winning. It always comes down to the last two and they split. That was the night we had twelve people sitting around my dining room table and new to the game this summer, my brilliant girlfriend won. I’d kill for a brain like hers… Hmmmm…

It was great to be back in the states but man, the weight gain! I didn’t eat at McDonalds ONCE. I had ONE HOTDOG and that was on our last day there. I didn’t snack on chips and soda every time I stopped for gas and I still ballooned up seven pounds.

Despite all the obvious things like family, friends, comprehending speech around me, home, my king sized pillow top bed, etc; it was wonderful to be back among Vermonters.

I was walking down the aisle of “Linen’s and Things” (new house stuff for Wendy, remember? I was NOT there willingly) and a woman ten steps ahead of me turns around, sees me coming, moves her cart out of the way and says “Excuse me.”

You cannot imagine how shocking and refreshing this was to me. And it happened over and over again everywhere I went and I LOVED IT! I was in BLISS!

Not only that, everyone on the street walked at a brisk pace and plotted a course for where they were going and avoided each other like people that… well, LIVE WITH OTHER PEOPLE!!! Something Spaniards refuse to master.

You’re probably sick of me explaining this, but I can’t help myself. Spaniards all walk as if they are nine hundred years old. All of them. From the sixteen year olds to the mothers of small children to grand parents. Every single one of them ambles along at a speed of half a mile a decade and weaves too and fro along the sidewalk as if drunk and no one could possibly be trying to get by them. This works fine for other Spaniards since they all walk at the same snail’s pace and no one ever tries to pass.

I HAVE THINGS TO DO! MOVE! I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU, NO DON’T WEAVE LEFT; OKAY I’LL GO RIGHT… WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WERE YOU BORN WITHOUT PERIPHERAL VISION AND DEAF?

Of course, this is why half of America is medicated too. I should probably just learn to amble and weave and I’ll be a lot more relaxed.

On top of that, lines were not cut. People stood one person in front of the other like organized soldiers, not two or even three in a haphazard crazy jigsaw line only a Spaniard can either understand or ignore.

It was bliss.

Bliss I tell you.

Next entry – The Return.