Sunday, May 25, 2008

Recent art exhibit outings in Madrid

In the past couple weeks we've gone out with greater frequency with the primary motivation of catching some temporary exhibits before they left the city, and along the way we've found some decent culinary spots too.

We saw a Picasso exhibit at the Reina Sofia, which included 5 times the number of Picasso works that normally grace the museum, on the last day before it was shipped back to the Musée Picasso in Paris. (Also, I recently read that the museum will be changing the installation space for Guernica in a good way, and I hope it gets completed soon. Since last year was a major anniversary of the painting, we saw tributes throughout Madrid and País Vasco, including a documentary about all the trouble the cuadro went through before it was finally restored to Spain.)

Then we went to the "Noche de museos" for free midnight entrance to the Modigliani exhibit at the Thyssen. The visit continued at the always-free Caja Madrid exhibition space. We saw some really great Modigliani portraits--with their signature elongation and soft brushstrokes--and plenty of other works by his contemporaries. I'm confident I would have been perfect for Paris in the 1910's.

Finally, just yesterday we caught the Alphonse Mucha exhibit at the newly inaugurated CaixaForum in Madrid. A Czech Art Nouveau artist, Mucha was well known for his gorgeous posters advertising everything from Sarah Bernhardt to bicycles to cigarette rolling paper, but it was also interesting to see his studies for non-commercial works.

Three places we've eaten out at and enjoyed recently have been Manuelas, with their turn-of-the-century columns and molding (and board games), Home Burger Bar, with delicious organic burgers (make a reservation or just get take-out), and La Sueca, a Swedish lounge with lots of salmon (surprise).

One thing's for sure: these three artists had very distinct ways of depicting women in their art. Just take a look at these three examples (all of which I like very much).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A beautiful May trip to Paris

Preparatory research
lots of friends' personal recommendations
New York travel section
Paris veggie recs

French brushing up resources
Speaking Hints-French Notes
Real Life French podcast episodes
Easy French Poetry podcast
My conversations go quite well and I am pleasantly surprised to understand the majority of everything I hear and read.

Food eaten
carrot bread, tomme des vosges cheese, and rambutans from the Baudoyer plaza market:pain chocolat
crêpes (especially with nutella)
best bagels ever at Rosiers and Ecouffies Jewish bakeryfalafel at both L'As du Falafel and Chez Mariannemacaroons (a little disappointing, they remind me of flavored Tootsie Rolls)
decadent Ladurée berry cream puff

Museums visitedThe Louvre: Behold the crowds. The Denon wing is pretty well covered in a Rick Steves audio tour. After listening, we try to see some Rembrandt and Vermeer and stumble upon a truly bizarre temporary exhibit that has installed contemporary pieces alongside permanent collection pieces in the Flemish and Dutch painting rooms. We are completely unprepared for Jan Fabre's weirdness: sculptures covered in brass tacks, peacocks constructed out of pills, a recording of people moaning and wearing armor and the coup de grâce--Voldemort-Nagini amalgamation spread over tombstones occupying the Rubens hall. I don't photograph the craziest stuff.Musée d'Orsay: We only do the top floor because we want to concentrate more time there on Impressionists and Post-impressionists. New-found love of Toulouse-Lautrec for A. and discovery of Redon. Superb collection with lots of gems.Musée Rodin: There's a temporary exhibit of Camille Claudel which I would encourage everyone to see even though we couldn't. The place is really packed and we are there a little too close to closing time. Since I don't get to see the exhibit, I buy a book about her. So make sure you go early and preferably before July 20. I personally prefer the garden sculptures to the indoor installations, which are not laid out to handle so many visitors.Centre Pompidou: Only the Stravinsky fountains outside.
Sights seen
Institut du Monde Arabe: The mechanical openings are supposed to move but are at a standstill.Notre Dame: Outside only: way too many tourists for me to want to push through the swarms.InvalidesEiffel towerPantheonArc de Triomphe
Ambient highlights:
Rue Mouffetard
Other Latin Quarter streets, including one where a private lunch is being enjoyed in the shadeSpace invaders street art mosaicsFun little Marais shops near where we stay
Escaping the crowds back behind the Sacre CoeurBridges galore and the sunny SeineA much too long walk at night from Arc de Triomphe via the Eiffel tower to our hotel, admiring houseboats on the Seine along the way but ultimately killing our feet.
The marked contrast between a quiet right bank in the mornings and Les Halles packed with Paris teens in the evening.
The view outside our hotel window (Place Baudoyer):The only disconcerting experience we have is on a packed metro car on the way to Montmartre when a psychotic man picks a fight with an older woman who had (barely) bumped him with her baby stroller and it escalates to the point where he is forced off the car by fellow passengers, but not without yelling and striking the outside of the car. A couple of very tense minutes ensue, but in the end a plainclothes cop shows up and we all go on our way.

Window-shopping (window licking in French)
Stohrer bakery and other Rue Montorgueil gourmet shopsAve. Montagne: I don't recognize half the fashion house names but A. says he does. My jaw drops at the 4-digit price of a dress I see...and there's no decimal point.

Places on our to-see list for next time
Peace memorial close to the Eiffel tower
Cinémathèque Française
Flea markets

We saw a lot in three days. We hope it's the first of many.
(More photos at Picasa link).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A plea for Burma

I will be updating shortly about our recent travels to Paris, but right now, because it weighs heavily on my mind, I want to provide you with some information about the cylcone aid crisis in Burma. My friend Thelma posted a heart-wrenching piece today about the current situation on her blog and it deserves mass distribution. I'm not sure if I merely feel out of the loop here in Spain or if there actually is as little coverage and widespread outrage regarding this tragedy--devasation on the scale of the 2004 tsunami--as I sense there is. (Thelma and company are obviously outraged and doing everything humanly possible to lobby important decision-makers about this--brava).

For those of you who may not know, Burma (called Myanmar by the junta dictatorship) has been in rough shape for a while now because of its thwarted attempts at democracy and human rights repression. The stituation started to get more press coverage with the monks protesting in fall 2007. And now, not only has the island been hit with a massive cyclone, but the junta's cruel indifference--no, willful neglect--is exacerbating the people's suffering. As you can read on the U.S. Campaign for Burma's main Cyclone Nargis information page, hundreds of thousands or millions of people are now at risk for death by starvation and disease because the government won't sanction foreign aid.

Their estimates already show 100,000 dead, 220,000 missing, at least 1 million homeless and at least 2 million more in desperate need of help. "A natural disaster is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions in significant part because of the malign neglect of the regime," said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

People and goverments need to take action on the scale they did after the December 2004 tsunami. But the trouble is not just donating, because supllies are already piling up. More vitally needed is the political willpower from the UN and the US to insist that food and medicine break through the military checkpoints. Thelma's organization has a handy-dandy list of ways you can help now. It includes:

1. Donate for Cyclone Relief

2. Host an event for the Global Day of Action, May 17th

3. Urge the UN to force Burma to accept aid

4. Pledge to Not Watch the Beijing Olympics

I don't know what else I can say, but here you have the information about what is happening and what action you can take within your sphere.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Homemade pasta and general updates

A. and I have been quite busy in the last few months. He's in his third and last trimester, having gotten notable and sobresaliente grades. Lots of positive progress on his group business plan. I have taken on a few classes at the university including teaching one TOEFL prep class. I'm also keeping extra-busy at my cole where I now work full-time. Whereas we used to be three language assistants, one us quit in February and moved to Thailand. Long story. The end result, however, was that his hours were split between me and the other remaining language assistant. That's an extra 9 hours, and several new classfuls of names to learn.

As we enter the month of May, we are focusing on preparing the 2nd-graders for their upcoming oral Trinity examination. Lots of coaching, reviewing, etc. But there's still time of fun and games. The other day, I taught two classes the song, "On top of Spaghetti," complete with enthusiastic hand motions (and a twist-like meatball-to-mush move). It was quite the hit.

Speaking of pasta, with all our busy-ness during the week, A. and I try to relax as much as possible on the weekend. That usually means low-key activities with a delicious pay-off. Strolling about the city, for one, and cooking! We recently bought a pasta press and A. has been experimenting making fresh, handmade pasta. The first, black-olive dough was great, and the follow-up, these spinach raviolis, were even better.Kneading the dough to a perfect consistency and then rolling it through the press.It goes through many, many passes before it's just right.Added a two-cheese filling.Closing up the giant raviolis (nigh unto empanada size).Served with a fresh tomato and asparagus sauce. Yum!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Q & A for new langauge auxiliar applicants (Part 3)

This post is the final installment of an email conversation between Lindsey, a girl who was applying to the language assistant program in Spain. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Part three of our conversation...

Lindsey: Again, thanks so much for your great advice. All of it has been incredibly helpful. And thanks for the ballpark figures on rent and the abono etc . . . those are exactly what I needed to know! You're right, the 888 will be plenty with those costs. I'm wanting to do as much traveling as I can, so I'll probably try to find extra private opportunities to help fund those exploits.
I'll definitely check out those blogs and such you put too.

So I came up with one more question! I know there are breaks for Christmas and Easter and they're paid, my question is how long is the break for Christmas. If this does indeed work out and I get hired, there's a chance my family might come over for Christmas. So basically I'm just wondering how long before Christmas the break starts and how long it is so that if this does indeed pan out, they can start looking at dates. (Maybe you could just tell me the dates it was this year). THANKS SO MUCH!

Anyway, thanks again for all of your help. I think its awesome that you put all of this information out there to help other people with the process.

Me: Two weeks. This year is it was Mon. Dec. 24-Mon. Jan. 7 and we returned on the 8th. Also, we had the 21st off since we don't work Fridays, so if you counted all the days it was 18 days off.

Next year I am guessing the break will be Wed. Dec. 24-Wed. Jan. 7. They skimp a little on the days leading up to Christmas I think because the celebration of Reyes (Jan. 6) is so important.

Lindsey: I thought of a couple more little questions for you. One, for the police report of good conduct thing you're supposed to have . . . how did you go about getting that and what exactly do they want? I imagine there may be more details when the application is actually up on the site, but I want to start getting some of this done since I'm short on extra time.
Also, I read on the embassy site that they won't do visas by mail. Did you have to go in person to LA to get yours? Roadtrips to LA don't bother me I guess! :)

At the schools, do you wear jeans, or is it a little more business casual? I guess what I'm asking is if there is any sort of dress code. (So I know what I would need to bring).
Ok, I think that's it for now. Thanks again! :)

Me: For the police report I just went to [the city police office for] where I've been living for the past 4 years and got them to do a form letter saying I hadn't been involved in any crime and I got it the same day (cost 8 or 10 dollars). It will be notarized in the police dept. But then you must get an apostille of the Hague attached to it. To do this, take the document in person to the Utah State Capital Bldg. in SLC and they will do it in the Lt. Gov.'s office. It only costs 10 or 15 dollars to do it and have it mailed to you but any kind of rush is at least 60 dollars (I think that's for next-day pick-up). The apostille is a bureaucratic formality that essentially accredits the notary public. There may be other documents that need an apostille for the visa application, I can't remember. Do these all well in advance.

As to the visa application, you may want to look up the form so that you get enough copies, notarized copies, etc. of all the documents for both applications at the same time. The visa form is available on the web site of the LA Spanish consulate. You are required to go to LA unless you can get a legal letter authorizing someone else to apply for you. But I believe there's no way to get out of pickup up the card in person (weeks and weeks later).

Dress is über-casual at school meaning most teachers wear jeans. [I brought business casual-ish clothing like khakis but don't wear them much to work.]

If you are interested in applying for the program Lindsey and I discussed, here is the online application. Best of luck to all applicants!

Q & A for new langauge auxiliar applicants (Part 2)

This post is part 2 of an email conversation between Lindsey, a girl who was applying to the language assistant program in Spain, begun here.

Part two of our conversation...

Lindsey: Thank you so much for your help in answering all my questions! I'll be honest, I'm getting really excited about the idea of all this, it sounds like its exactly what I'm looking for. I do have a couple more questions, and I hope I'm not being a nuisance!

You said you were doing this to support your husband and yourself over there . . . is 888 Euros a month enough to do that?! I've been trying to think about it (and I'm sure its different for two - and married - than a single person who can live with roommates) and without a car payment or gas expenses (I'd just get an abono) it sounds pretty doable. Do you find that it covers most of your needs?

I've been looking at the boards on the [Madrid Auxiliares] Yahoo group and it looks like different housing opportunities come up fairly often. Did you and your husband find a place before going over or did you do a hostel or hotel until you found somewhere? If you did find one previously, how did you go about looking for it?

From your last email it sounds like you come up with some of the teaching activities yourself. I, like you, have no plans to become a teacher of any sort in the future, this is really an excuse to get back into Spain/Europe for awhile. It doesn't sound like you NEED any teaching experience but have you found that its pretty guided and easy to fulfill their expectations of you or do you feel that you've been at a disadvantage not having taught before? (Or maybe you have taught before!)

As I said, I will be graduating this year, so my next question is how early do I need to apply? From one of the blogs you gave me (and those ARE great resources, so thank you SO much) it sounded like the job itself is from October to May or so, but I'm assuming you need to have applied and been accepted long before that. I checked out the official website (again, thanks for that link, I'll be watching that closely) and as soon as I see that I CAN apply I will. Did you apply early and do you think that the earlier you apply the greater chance you have, or does it not really work like that?

Also, I read on the official website that you cannot get a second type of job because you're on a student visa. Do you HAVE to come over on a student visa in order to be an auxiliary? Or could I try to get another type in case I did want to find another part time job?(This kind of ties in with my earlier question about the money being enough . . . I'm concerned I may need another bit of income) If I'm asking questions that you don't know, I apologize!

I think I'm finally out of questions. Again, I so appreciate your being willing to answer all of my questions and give me a first hand perspective of this. You're a life saver! I'm sorry if I'm driving you nuts with all these questions.

Me: Heh. I think I'd be living like a queen over here if I were only supporting one person. 888 euros seems like quite enough to me, considering the avg. rental price for a single room in a shared apt. is 300 a month. Add to that the cheap 45-or-so cost for an abono [in] Madrid (including metro, bus and cercanías). If you're outside of Madrid, your pay is slightly less but then again housing is less too. So you're still left with a good chunk for food, going out, whatever else you need (I, for one, find a home internet connection to be essential) and even some moderate traveling. Granted, it isn't too hard to get supplementary income from private tutoring which helps to pad the budget. And these are all prices in euros, which isn't good when your income is in dollars but which is perfectly manageable when you are paid in euros.

I would always recommend having enough savings for when you initially come over though, because you'll arrive sometime in Sept. and won't get your first paycheck until the end of Oct.

As for encountering housing, it is really hit and miss and all in all pretty stressful. We were lucky to find a place after 4 days of dogged searching, during which time we stayed in a hostel, but I know people who have spent much more time searching. Madrid is a very competitive market in the landlords' favor. In the end, we got into a place that is geographically convenient but that we share with two flatmates (keeps it affordable). I wouldn't be comfortable deciding on a place before I got here and had a chance to actually check it out.

For helpful hints you may want to look at the discussion board on these the Auxiliares en Madrid facebook group, especially "Memoirs of a Piso Hunter". It has some good general tips. Also, there are some good tips [from other auxiliars] here.

If you want to waste a lot of time reading our chronicled piso hunt, you can check out my blog, but I haven't boiled it down to specific tips there. If I were to codify the rules, I'd say
  1. use segundamano and loquo and idealista and whatever other sites are commonly used for piso listings
  2. do your best to sell yourself to future roommates/landlords as a cool, tidy, financially secure person (be prepared with your program acceptance letter, bank statements, etc. as evidence)
  3. check out all your transport possibilities with the online map or pick up a "plano de transportes de la comunidad de madrid"; don't get boxed into thinking about only metro comunicación and above all
  4. be persistent and follow up on every single lead.
I had some prior teaching experience, [including TESOL and other adult teaching experiences,] but not anything dealing with small children, which made me nervous at first. But I found that the ministry has been good with offering ideas through training seminars and beyond that I've looked up teaching resources online occasionally. From my experience, I don't think you need to bring anything specifically for the kids like books, since you won't know their specific ages in advance. (The only thing that's really come in handy are photos and postcards, etc. from back home for you to make a poster of some sort about yourself at the school.)

And at my school, we stick pretty closely to the textbooks, so anything I come up with that dovetails with the material is something that I can put together just by reading a unit ahead. There are no guarantees because of the number of schools involved, but my fellow teachers were helpful in making sure I got a teacher's copy of the textbook for myself. I think enthusiasm and charisma is the most important asset you can bring. And your job mostly comes down to creatively and simply explaining information to the kids (with miming and props as necessary). And I have a bunch of random TESOL site bookmarks listed here: Oh, and definitely talk up your [previous teaching] experience--that will be very positive for the application reviewers.

Apparently applications are reviewed at the end rather than ongoing so theoretically it shouldn't matter when you apply. I applied right before the deadline (April 15th, right along with taxes) and I was officially graduating in August and I was accepted. You can apply early on if you want to and simply note that you are on track to be graduated before the program would begin. You probably still won't get a response until a month after the final deadline.

As to the visas, you will be given all the paperwork and instructions for obtaining a student visa which will be a single-entry good-for-90-days visa. It allows you to be an auxiliar but does not allow for any work authorization. Within the first month that you arrive you have to "renew" the visa in a sense by applying for a NIE (número de identificación de extranjero) and a tarjeta de estudiante. These will make your stay legal for the duration of the program.

To legally be allowed to work outside the program, you must either come on a worker visa (which requires as a precondition a work contract from a Spanish company) or you would need to apply for a work permit when you are here (separate from your student card and also contingent upon a formal contract of work from a Spanish company). These are very difficult to obtain, so the best recommendation is to rely on the stipend and give some private lessons if you are comfortable with being paid in cash (technically not legal, but it's a widespread practice). Some people also seek employment from private academies to supplement their income (10-20 hours teaching English to groups through the academy). The topic of finding private students yourself is another on that I won't delve into here but it's not hard.

I do hope this program works out for you and at any rate, I will probably post excerpts of this on my blog for other interested persons to read, that is, if that's OK with you.

This is a three-part posting of our conversation. It continues here...

If you are interested in applying for the program Lindsey and I discussed, here is the online application. Best of luck to all applicants!

Q & A for new langauge auxiliar applicants (Part 1)

A mutual friend referred me to Lindsey, a girl who wanted to apply for the language assistant program in Spain, and we had the following email conversation back and forth. She gave me permission to reproduce it here. The deadline for applying to the program for '08-'09 is fast approaching (April 15, just like taxes!) Click here procrastinators!

Part one of our conversation...

Lindsey: So here's the deal: I just got finished doing the Spain [Semester] Study Abroad and I'm currently in my last semester here. I don't feel "done" as far as Spanish is concerned and I don't feel done in Europe, I love it! So I'm wanting to find a job in Spain where I can work for a limited time (6 months to a year) to continue getting that immersion experience.

I'm pretty short on money so I'm looking for paying jobs rather than internships that are more only for the experience. Anyway, I know [our friend] had mentioned that you were doing some sort of teaching over there while your husband is in grad school. Can you give me some more details about what it is you actually do, your schedule etc? And I'm assuming its a paid position, right? I'm not looking to make a lot of money obviously, mostly just to offset the cost of moving and living over there.

Any light you can shed would be awesome. I love Spain and am just dying to get back over there!

Me: Well, those are all very good reasons to apply to this program. While the job is focused on being an assistant English teacher, just being here means that your time outside the classroom may be spent exploring the magical land that is Spain. My reasoning to apply was that my husband was looking into a master's program and I would need to support us we wanted to have an experience living abroad so that we could traipse about Europe.

The nitty-gritty of the position is that you work 12 hours per week and get paid 700 euros per month, including those months with vacation breaks (Dec. and whenever Easter falls). In Madrid things are slightly different, where you work 16 hours per week and get paid 888 euros per month (though that may change slightly next year. The 700 euro figure for the rest of Spain was recently announced as a raise from this year's stipend. The higher pay in Madrid was never (and presumably won't be) broadly advertised; I only found out about it after I was accepted to Madrid). You rank the provinces you prefer to placed in on your application, and I believe every Spanish province is participating. I named Madrid as my top and only option (knowing that's where my husband's school was located) and got accepted. The official application [is currently up until April 15] at this site:

Their selection criteria really centers on whether you've completed a bachelor's degree by the time you start the program, and whether you've had any overseas living experience or experience teaching (esp. foreign language). As far as I can tell, with those basic credentials and a good statement of intent, you should be accepted.

My experience has been positive. I work 3-4 hours per day M-Th at my school in Getafe (just south of Madrid, slightly closer than Alcalá is). At my school there are two other auxiliares. The auxiliar's role is to assist in teaching English in the classroom, always with real Spanish teachers being in charge. Along with the English subject, science and art are taught in English as part of the Madrid school system's bilingual initiative. I teach in different classes in the school ranging from ages 3 to 9. My responsibilities are to aid in pronunciation and to lead certain activities. Some schools are more open to creative ideas you propose than others; it's always a balance between the required curriculum and fun language learning activities.

I enjoy the work and even though I have no intention of being a Spanish, English, or any other kind of teacher, it is a good part-time position that is supporting my living in Spain. Most of the American auxiliares are fresh out of college. The Brits are mostly in the year before their final year at university. We don't see an awful lot of each other except for the other people placed at your school. Maybe that's just boring married me; there may be some exceptions that seek out other auxiliares' company. But nothing is formally organized. Your living situation would most likely be in a shared apartment with other foreign and/or Spanish students, and that could certainly affect your experience. For the perspectives of two (single, female) acquaintances of mine who are in the program, check out these two blogs:

Both blogs would be really great resources. Do browse the [North American Language and Culture Assistant Program 2007-2008 and Auxiliares norteamericanos en Madrid 2007-2008 Facebook] groups if you want just to read previous Qs and As, i.e. mostly for background research, thought people don't generally stay that active on the boards once the school year has started.

Any other questions you have, throw them my way.

This is a three-part posting of our conversation. It continues here...

If you are interested in applying for the program Lindsey and I discussed, here is the online application. Best of luck to all applicants!