The little Piper who couldn´t

That´s Paco on the left after getting the same note wrong 4 times in a row

There are some great street musicians here. But I´m not going to write about them. I´m going to tell you about the worst street musician I´ve ever seen. I´ve nicknamed him Paco. Paco plays the recorder. He wears brown tights and  a military vest every day. He has a mullet that´s shaved on the sides (business in the front, party in the back, army on the sides).

He plays one song, and he doesn´t play it well. He usually comes to the outdoor restaurants right after a great acordian player, or violinist is done. He walks around to every table playing three or four notes off key and then asks for money. Usually people cover their ears and ask him to leave.

I´ve watched him  since the day I arrived in Salamanca. I figured that was the first day he received the recorder and that eventually he would get better. Nope. He´s still just as bad. For all I know,  he´s been playing that song for years. I watch him at lunchtime. I´ve never seen him get paid once. However,  I have seen people offer him cigarettes or beer and ask to talk to him. They probably ask him why he plays the recorder.

So what is the point of telling you this? What sort of HeSo lesson can I glean from this? He obviously loves playing his recorder, and nothing is going to stop him. It doesn´t matter if no one pays him, and if no one likes him, he´s going to play his recorder. Can you imagine being that passionate about something? Can you imagine inspiring people not with your success, but with your perserverance? Let´s all try and be like Paco today. I´m going to go shave the sides of my head now.

Paco getting into a groove

Getting over fear

A wise man once said, (I´m paraphrasing here) ¨If you´re afraid of being poor, walk around for a day in threadbare clothes and only drink water and eat a crust of bread. At the end, say to yourself, is this what I´ve been so afraid of?¨

How many times have you done something that you were really afraid of and then laughed at yourself because it really wasn´t hard at all? It´s insane how much we let fear control our lives. If you think of all the things you´ve ever wanted to do, and then asked yourself why you didn´t do it the answer is probably fear.

Here are the three fears that have inhibited me the most:

Fear of poverty

Fear of criticism

Fear of being alone

In the past, I have prioritzed avoiding these fears over fully embracing life . For instance, I didn´t like my last job, but I worked there for three years because I made lots of money, and I wouldn´t have to face the fear of being poor. I have kept my mouth shut when I had something important to say, because I was afraid that I would sound stupid. I didn´t even want to have a blog because I was so afraid of exposing my terrible spelling and grammar to the world. Gasp what would they say! Since I´ve been in Spain, the computer I´ve been using doesn´t have spell check set up for English, so I have certainly had to get over my fear of criticism to write these posts. In High School and College I befriended people  who I didn´t like or respect because I didn´t want to sit alone.

Before coming here I decided to face the fear of being alone head on. First of all I came here alone. Besides for the first day, I have had every lunch and dinner by myself. Don´t worry I´m making friends, but I made a conscious decision to grow comfortable with being alone. Before, even just the thought of eating alone in a restaurant  would have made my skin crawl. In the past if I went to a restaurant with a friend and they got up to go to the bathroom, I would immediately feel like everyone was looking at me, and thinking oh poor girl, she has no friends.

A funny thing starts to happen when you´re alone for so long.  Instead of feeling like everyone´s looking at you, you start to look at everyone else. I have become more observant. I noticed how the old men here have made an art out of stirring their coffee. They slip their spoons in and out of the cup very slowly, and they do this for 20 minutes or so. It´s almost like a meditation. I noticed how people touch their wine glasses differently when they´re talking to someone they like. I can predict if a couple´s going to have sex or a fight after dinner just by the way they drink their wine!

To be perfectly honest I don´t like being alone. I miss talking to my boyfriend/friends/family. I miss having common references and inside jokes. But I have met interesting people who I probably never would have met if I was with a friend. And I´ve had time to get lost in the streets and do exactly what I want to do. At the end of every meal I´ve made of point of saying, ¨Is this what I´ve been afraid of?¨

The point is as soon as you face your fears they can no longer control you.  If you´re in a relationship with someone who isn´t right for you maybe you should spend the day alone and then ask yourself, ¨Is this what I´ve been afraid of?¨ Sometimes when we face what we fear the most it´s better than what we´ve been accepting in the past.

So as a challenge, I ask you to do what scares you the most. Don´t go skydiving today. I´m talking about emotional fears. Face your emotional fears and then ask yourself, ¨Is this what I´ve been afraid of?¨If you can laugh after asking yourself that question then it´s time to start changing.

It´s all in the details

The lucky frog´s on top of the skull

I´ve been overwhelmed by the details of the Spanish language, but positively inspired by the details of Spanish architecture. As I wrote in a previous post, legend has it that if you find the frog in the fasçade of the University entrance you will get married in a year. Single women flock to the entrance every morning to try and find it. I found it yesterday! Haha, sorry Mike.

If you think it was an easy feat think again. The whole wall is carved with intricate flowers, animals, and decorations.

The fasçade of the University entrancen

People stare at it for hours until their necks get sore. The frog is only about an inch tall and it´s high up. I should start a business where I charge desperate women a euro for each hint as to where the frog is.

Here´s a funny side note. WordPress (the site that hosts my blog) shows me what links causes people to view my blog. My post about the dreaded lisp is the most visited, and I was wondering why. I have a picture of Megan Fox at the bottom, and then I saw that hundreds of people viewed the post because of the Megan Fox tag! That´s one way of getting visitors!

And now I will show you some pictures of the ceilings in Salamanca and Segovia. I´ve been blown away by the details.

In the castle of Segovia. This was the meeting room.

This ceiling is about 30 feet high and decorated with all the kings of Spain´s history. Below each one is a description of their rule and lineage. These figures are about 5 feet tall and about 20 feet above your head.

The throne room in the castle of Segovia

This ceiling is about 40 feet high. The walls are red velet. The carved section is about 10 feet wide. The detail is stunning. You can´t help but drop your mouth when you walk into this room.

The ceiling of the Cathedral of Salamanca

The massive columns of the Cathedral of Salamanca

A ceiling of the old library. All hand carved wood.

detail of the ceiling

Each color is a different marble or granite.

Nightlife in Salamanca

I went to a restaurant for dinner at 10pm. It was completely empty and I thought I had missed dinner time. Wrong. People didn´t start coming in for dinner until 11. And these were families with young children. I can´t imagine what time twenty somethings show up for dinner. The food was incredable. For 11 Euros you get half a liter of wine,  an appetizer, entree and dessert. For my appetizer I had mashed potatoes cooked in the fat of Chorizo and sprinkled with fried bits of pig spine on top.  Sounds disgusting – tasted amazing. Pretty much every meal dish has some part of a pig in it. Oink oink!

This is the Plaza at night time. This is after midnight! On a monday!!

After dinner I walked around the plaza.  The plaza is lined with restaurants with outdoor sitting. In every other country I´ve visited, musicians wander around the restaurants playing for small change.  Not in Salamanca. At each restaurant a troup of musicians,  dressed in elaborate costumes, take over a bunch of tables and play for the whole night. People will give up their tables and hold their plates of food so that a musician can have more room to play. Crowds form around the restaurants to watch these musicions and they throw euros at them. It must be very lucrative for them.

That´s the girl in the middle

At one restaurant the musicians asked for the crowd to sacrifice a beautiful woman. The crowd pushed a woman forward and she had to stand on top of a table while they all serenaded her. She was beet red. But the most surprising thing was that once they were done she gave the conductor a big wet kiss on the lips!

The city is beautiful during the day, but it´s breathtaking at night. They really know how to light their buildings:

The astronaut carved into the new church fasçade

This morning I took a tour with the school. There´s a tradition that if you can find the frog on the fasçade of the old University you´ll get married in a year. I´ve been there twice already, and I still can´t find it.  However, I did find the astronaut carved into the fasçade of the new church! The new church was built in the 1700s (which gives you some perspective on how old these buildings are) but when they were restoring it in the 1970´s someone snuck in an astronaut holding an ice cream cone. I hope God has a sense of humor!

Classes seem really short. I signed up for 30 hours a week but we take 30 minute breaks every 2 hours and an hour and a half break for lunch so I feel like I´m barely ever in class. But the locals are really nice and love to talk to foreigners, so I´m still learning a lot. I´m off to get some mid-day sangria. It´s cheaper than water here!

Dancing in Salamanca

Well, I landed safely in Salamanca. I slept through the entire first day because I wasn´t able to sleep on the plane at all- I was sitting in the aisle seat next to an ancient couple who needed to go to the bathroom ever half hour. Even the flight attendent thanked me for my patience.

To sum up Salamanca in one word: golden. The buildings and streets are all made from this yellow sandstone that glistens in the sun light. The weather is perfect, hot but very dry and there´s always a warm breeze. The sun light is a warm orange hue. You can hear Spanish guitar playing all the time.

The whole town is centered around the Plaza Mayor. I was sitting and enjoying a cafe con leche in the plaza when all of a sudden 200-300 Brazilians came marching through the square. I know they were Brazilian because they were wearing Brazilian soccer jerseys and flags. They were chanting a song in unison and carrying giant golden crosses. They formed three concentric circles in the middle of the plaza and began to dance. They all had tamborines or guitars.

The song went something like “ya blah da da ma Israel” The last word is the only one I can say for sure. They sang the same song for over an hour and after a while I caught myself singing along. Halfway through they came to a cresendo and I thought it would be over, but then they kept going. Soon a group of people carrying the flag of Angola came marching through the opposit entrance. The craziest part was that all of the locals ignored it – which takes a lot of focus because the dancers were really loud. It was like the locals were thinking, “oh, there goes those crazy Brazilians again.”

About half an hour after the Brazilians left (and, yes, if you´re keeping track of time I´ve been sipping my coffee for almost 2 hours by this point) about 20 people wearing orange hats and orange backpacks, that said Tanzania, started up the same dance and song. They didn´t have nearly the same enthusiasm and endurance as the Brasilians and they quickly dissapated.

Today is a holiday for some Saint. My host mother didn´t remember which one. I can only assume this show was for the Saint. He must be the Saint of flash mobs.

Will post more later. Tomorrow´s my first day of Spanish class! I´m pretty nervous. Just talking to my host mom for ten minutes gives me a massive headache. I can feel the new synampsis forming. I´m going to get some Paella now!

Spain Travel Narrative

I’m leaving for Spain today! I’ve always wanted to go, so now I’m doin’ it. For a whole month! First I’ll be taking a two week Spanish course in Salamanca at Don Quijote language school. I’ll be living with a host family, which I’ve never done before, and honestly that scares me. Hopefully we’ll get along. Afterward my boyfriend, Mike, will be meeting me in Madrid. We’ll take the train to San Sebastian, then Barcelona, Granada, and Cordoba. Muy Bien.

from About Spain Travel blog

OK, here’s where the challenge comes in. Traveling is one of the things that supports my HeSo. And I’m supposed to be finding ways to get paid to do what I love. The obvious answer is travel narrative. So how do I become the next Bill Bryson, or Elizabeth Gilbert? The truth is I’ve been to some pretty crazy places, and experienced amazing wonders. I took a plane ride around Mt. Everest, I swam in a bio-luminescent bay in Vieques where the water glows neon green when you touch it, I had Shabbot dinner with an 11 person family in Vienna who I met only an hour before. I’ve been to Nicaragua 10 times. My family bribed a guard to get into Catherine the Great’s Palace in Russia. So how the heck do I get paid to tell these stories?

A picture I took at 30,000 ft in the air

Well let’s be realistic. Publishers are not going to be knocking down my door to give me a book deal when I come back from Spain. So what are the baby steps?

I visited a great site called The Travel Writer’s Life. In an article titled, Go Magazine Editor Orion Ray-Jones on the Kinds of Travel Articles that Glue and Editor to the Page, Christina Merchant interviews the editor, Orion Ray-Jones. Here’s what he says about how to get published:

Be original. Bring me topics that will surprise and intrigue me, and develop innovative ways to present them, both in terms of how you report the story and how you structure the language. That first-person travelogue of syrupy, adjective-laden writing about a Tuscan wine tour is too painful to bear. I know there’s wine in Italy, and unless you’re famous, I’m not interested in your diary about tasting it. Surprise me! There are so many bad clichés in travel; avoid them.

An article by Bonnie Caton said that the best way to get published is to write something unique about a small town. In other words, editors are overwhelmed with stories about wine tasting in Tuscany, finding love in Paris, and art in Barcelona, but they don’t get many interesting stories about the Socrates Sculpture garden in Astoria. That’s good to know, but it’s not going to help me right before my trip to Spain.

That got me thinking. Can I write a local story about traveling? I started looking up the American sister cities for the cities I’m visiting in Spain. It turns out Madrid and NYC are sister cities. And so my goal is to write and sell a story about similarities and differences between NYC and Madrid.

Roy Stevenson, gives these steps in his article, How Long Does it Take to Sell your First Travel Story:

1. Collect every bit of information you get, and take a ridiculous amount of photos. You might think you’ll remember everything, but you won’t. Editors love when you supply your own pictures. Make sure you take many different angles. You might take only close ups, but the editor might want the look of wide open vistas.

2. Create a long list of all the travel journals, magazines and websites that you would like to sell to, and send the query letter to all of them. Yes, all of them.

3. Be fearless. The only way to get published is to keep putting yourself out there. No one is going to read stories off of your laptop. Or at least they’re not going to pay you to do so.

So this is going to be my first attempt at making some HeSo money. Wish me luck!