Just checking in

Hi all,

It’s been a while.  This blog has fallen by the wayside while I’ve gotten swept up in other things–teaching English, traveling, building websites, doing long-overdue transcription for that old interview project.  You know.  Stuff.

This September marks the beginning of my third year in Spain–or the fourth year, if you include those university study abroad semesters.  My Spanish is improving more quickly now thanks to some wonderful Spanish friends who won’t let me be a hermit no matter how hard I try.  Teaching English is also going well.  The fun and terribly disorganized Master’s program that brought me to Europe is over (as is the glorious scholarship that funded those first two years abroad).  A full year after my thesis defense, I’ve finally convinced the university to start the process of issuing my diploma.  I should have that diploma in my hands in another 1-2 years.

This blog started tapering off a little over a year ago.  Since then, I’ve visited Barcelona, San Sebastian, Madrid, Salobreña, Torrevieja, and Cádiz.  I’ve traveled to Portugal, Germany, and back to the US.  I’ve lagged on Skype but still managed to keep in touch with the best of old friends, and I’ve met warm and wonderful new people on both sides of the Atlantic.

My visa here in Spain is dependent on volunteer translation work.  Combine that with teaching classes and you’d think I already had my hands full.  However, because I’m me, there’s also a small pile of independent projects: a new travel gifts website, the slowly progressing HERvoices project that’ll share the stories of Roma women in Hungary.  Intermittent photography (whenever I have time).

So, this website is going on a temporary hiatus.  I’m hoping to be back within the year, and if I don’t just restart this blog then I’ll leave a heads-up post about the new location.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in following my photography, here’s my “official” photo site: www.jillianrubman.com

The associated blog Coloring the Globe also shows off some fun photos (like these ones), though like this blog it’ll be on hiatus for the immediate future.

And finally, if you’d like to see some fun travel gifts and get a glimpse of my super cheery alter-ego, check out my latest project: www.TravelGiftList.com


Back in Spain for the Holidays

Hello all,

Despite some concerns to the contrary, I made it back to Spain!  To be precise, I arrived in Granada exactly 15 days ago.  Now I’m curled up under a big pile of blankets in a friend’s apartment (she offered me her room while she went home for holiday festivities in Scotland) with my feet up, a bar of chocolate next to me, and a big pile of what-to-do-with-my-life research splashed across a minimized window of Chrome.

Since my return I’ve been alternating between holiday shenanigans and getting life organized.  I believe I’ve almost found my own apartment–the second visit to my top choice happens tomorrow morning, so we’ll see how that goes!  Then with any luck I might get some paid work when all the English academies reopen next week.  School vacations here start before Christmas and continue until after the “Día de los Reyes” on January 6th–a schedule which is great for students and not so great for English teacher job seekers.

In the meantime…well, Christmas in Spain was wonderfully relaxing.  I went to a holiday dinner on Christmas Eve (in Spanish, “Nochebuena”) and then stayed in and vegged the next day, rather enjoying an entire twenty-four hours during which I didn’t feel obligated to do anything at all.  (Ah, the beauty of being even mildly Jewish.)

On New Year’s Eve, or “Nochevieja,” I welcomed in the new year in true Spanish style, popping a grape in my mouth for each of the twelve bell strikes of the clock at midnight.  Feliz año nuevo!  Then I wrapped up that troublesome toe (it’s almost all better) and headed out for a night’s dancing and laughing at a local discoteca.  Few things can top that moment when nearly every person on the crowded floor starts dancing “Gangnam style.”

These few weeks have reminded me of a few things I’d almost forgotten about Spain:

Judaism is a confusing unknown for most people here.  At a certain point last week I’d fielded so many questions of “What does your family do for Christmas?” with careful explanations of US religious diversity that I decided I’d just tell the next person who asked that Americans go to the movies and eat Chinese food on Dec. 25th.  So those aren’t the most mainstream US Christmas traditions….whatever.  It’s what some of us do.

Not understanding English doesn’t keep people–even grim looking, middle-aged Spanish men–from enthusiastically humming and whistling along to US pop songs like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”  (That particular incident made for a fantastic mood lifter during an otherwise unremarkable bus ride.)

People in Granada are so friendly that, if you put in a little effort, it’s hard not to meet people.  How I missed this city!


This photo was taken during a walk around the city’s outer neighborhoods (somewhere between Realejo and the Bola de Oro).

Wishing you all a happy new year from southern Spain!!

Just stopping in

No time or energy for a real post right now, but here’s the gist:

  • I’m currently back in the United States–I arrived here in mid-October.
  • In mid-December I will be heading back to Spain!  Through a mix of blind luck and extreme perseverance I managed to get my student visa extended until next September.  More on that later, though.
  • At the moment I’m completely swamped with a CELTA certification course (hurray for English-teaching credentials!) and a new pile of health issues (OK, that part’s less good).
  • On that second note, apparently mysterious toe infections picked up in rural Hungary can be difficult to treat. Who knew?

I should have more time for both real life and blogging once this course wraps up and a few more doctors have had a go at my foot.  In the meantime, focusing on health and school until things calm down a bit!

Two Nights in Eastern Hungary

Remember that interview project I mentioned back in spring 2011?  Well, that bounced back with some force upon my return to Hungary.

Wrapping up the project has meant a lot of phone calls and mountains of emails (and yes, Spanish speakers, when I say “a mountain” I am actually thinking “un montón!” Oh, the beauty of cross-language confusion). The project has also offered up the amazing privilege of speaking with impressive and kind women in Budapest.  Only this weekend, though, did I finally get the opportunity to venture outside Budapest to talk to women from the Hungarian countryside.

The research trip took a Hungarian friend and me to towns and villages right on the country’s eastern border.  The train took about 5 hours from Budapest; after stumbling off the train after the long journey we promptly got lost in the quiet town.  My friend pulled out her smart phone to ask for directions, but for some reason it kept directing us to destinations in Romania.

When we found it, the hotel was a bit of a mixed bag.  The staff were pretty gruff  when we first arrived (probably because it was off season, they weren’t thrilled to be there, and they were saddled with the task of providing us with a meal at 8:45 when the hotel restaurant closed at 9:00).  We had to switch hotel rooms twice to get one where the heater worked, and this third choice unfortunately also smelled very strongly of…something.  Unpleasant something.  We aired out the room quickly enough, though, and the working heater outweighed scent-related woes.  At least it was quiet and the beds were comfortable.

The next day we had brunch at an Italian place that seemed like the only major restaurant in town.  Counterintuitively enough, their pizzas were delicious. 

Also, when we asked the waiter where we might be able to print some documents for our interviews, the “small town charm” came out in abundance: the waiter fetched the owner of the restaurant, who led us back through the kitchen to the main office.  He let us open Facebook and print our documents on his computer, then refused any compensation for printing costs.

As we left the restaurant, my friend and I exchanged amazed looks.  Then she said, “We really are not in Budapest right now.”  (A sidenote: When we went back to the restaurant for dinner that night, we left a very generous tip.)

We got lost finding the bus stop and managed to miss the bus to the village where the interviews would take place.  Cue panic.  The next step, then, was a walk back to the hotel, where the young woman at the front desk did her best to help us out.  The only local taxi company–which we eventually gathered was really just a guy with a car–was booked for the day.  Eventually we managed to get a taxi from the next town over to pick us up and drop us at the nearest useful bus stop.

On the bright side, the hotel’s receptionist was young and very friendly.  Her English was nearly perfect and she had a university degree but hadn’t yet managed to find a job where she could apply it.  With this job she at least made some money: the equivalent of $30 from each 24-hour shift.

Between the taxi and a local bus, we eventually made it to the right village.  After that…well, I won’t go into too much detail about the interviews, but I will say they made for a thoroughly interesting though exhausting afternoon. We conducted 5 interviews with 7 women during the space of about 3 hours.  They were about the women’s real lives and so didn’t offer much sweetness and light; the majority of the women are impoverished and seriously struggling to make ends meet.  They were also mostly kind and open to us despite our obvious outsider status.

At the end of each of the last 3 interviews I tried to signal to my friend–who was translating–to request a break before our next interviewee’s arrival.  She was clearly tired, and I was so drained that I was struggling to remember what questions I had and hadn’t asked.  In each case, though, the next woman was in the room with us before my friend had squeezed out more than a quick “Elnézést” (“Excuse me”)…so we continued moving forward.

During our last interview of the day, we heard the sound of a woman singing–beautifully, in Hungarian–in the room where the group was meeting.  The woman we’d just spoke with was just getting up, and I asked her to pass on our compliments to whoever had been singing.  She entered the room, and a moment later the facilitator for the group popped her head out into the hallway where we’d been stationed and invited us in to listen while the same singer performed one more number.

That young woman singing a Hungarian folk song to the circle of women in that unheated room may be the most powerful memory of the trip–and after all those hours of interviews, I didn’t even catch the song on tape.

When the program’s facilitator dropped us off at our hotel a half hour later, my friend and I were both too tired to speak. (She drove us there despite its being out of her way and also refused any payment, even just to cover gas costs…so many incredibly nice people!)

Here are some photos from this weekend’s travels:

From Spain to Hungary

Hello all,

I’m writing to you now from a not entirely new location: Budapest. Last weekend I hopped a plane to Hungary after the craziest final week I could have imagined for my Spanish grad school experience.

Basically, after months of scrambling to complete the thesis and coordinate with my advisor, I did finally manage to schedule my defense! Only one hitch: It took place two days before my departure from Granada.

The defense itself was a success despite that timing.  The committee members (despite rumors about the committees at most defenses) were kind and had clearly read my thesis.  My advisor was surprisingly complimentary.  I was also graced with a much larger audience than I’d expected; since few defenses in this program take place in English, about 10 English-speaking students connected to the program who wanted to see what happened during defenses randomly showed up.  (Lucky me?)  They were also surprisingly complimentary.

Also, crucially, I got a good grade on the final product!

So…Ph.d., here I come?

The rest of that week was jam-packed.  The last weekend before my departure went to attending a wedding 6 hours away in Valencia province.  Having never been to a Spanish (or even a Catholic) wedding before, I was intrigued by various random things–like how the Catholic priest made the bride and groom promise to educate their children in the Catholic tradition.  And how, during dinner, the couple got up in front of everyone to cut the wedding cake with a full-sized sword.

The bad part was that the wedding was so very far away…a bit intense when we were only spending one night there!  Unsurprisingly, given the amount of running around and the lack of sleep involved in that weekend, around Monday or Tuesday I promptly came down with a cold.

Slight illness aside, the early days of that week were very busy! Not only did I have to prepare for the thesis defense, I also had a rather high-stakes appointment with the Spanish immigration office on Tuesday.  I’m half afraid that writing about that will somehow sabotage the bureaucratic mysteries currently taking place….will update later with more regarding the incomprehensible magic of Spanish immigration officialdom.

So, Saturday to Sunday: Valencia.

Tuesday: Immigration

Thursday: Thesis defense

After the defense on Thursday, I passed out for about 4 hours (no,  not the medical concerning kind of passing out — just a siesta!).  Then I met up with friends for a final tapas night before my….ahem….hopefully temporary departure from Spain.

Friday: Packing, packing, PACKING.

Saturday: I departed Granada for Madrid.

Sunday: After a putzing around in a rowboat in the city park during the afternoon, I hopped on a plane and headed to Hungría (Hungary) in the evening!

A side note: Apparently I just missed some pretty scary stuff going down in Madrid–protests against austerity measures, police brutality in responding to protests, protests against police brutality….uy.

Now I’m in Hungary.  Budapest is still beautiful and Hungarian culture is still that gloomy kind of hilarious.  Example: Compliments by random men here are liable to be followed by apologies (for their forwardness, I guess?).  Also, at an event taking place in the park here we walked past a stage setup where a band member was berating the audience for…not being larger.

I’ll be here for the next couple weeks working on an interview project I began back in spring 2011.  Pretty exciting stuff!  Especially since I just got an interview with a member of the Hungarian Parliament…gulp.  Of course, I’m also hoping to work on some photos AND update this blog while I’m here.

Wish me luck, and hopefully I will be back with retrospective and present-day updates during the next few weeks!

Hiking Río Verde and Monachil

Please note: I am writing this instead of my thesis right now because this was one of those days where I feel compelled to note down the awesomeness before I forget the details.  I will TOTALLY get back to work really soon, though.  Really.

Today a big group of us (Spanish, Canadian and American) went hiking in the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama.

This morning I thought the ride there might be the most challenging part of the day–you know those terribly twisty, hilly roads up in the mountains that just leave anyone with motion sickness reeling?  Well, add “6km of bumpy dirt” to “an hour of terribly twisty and hilly” and you have the start to our hiking adventure.

Once we arrived, though, the day took a turn for the awesomely better.  This was quite the trail!  The vast majority of the “path” had us climbing rocks and circumventing boulders in the Río Verde.  That cool, clear, green-tinted water kept us sane during six hours of hiking in 85+ degree heat and southern Spanish sunshine.  Some of the crazier portions of the hike involved holding our backpacks on our heads and feeling our way along the river bottom while water lapped against our chests.

The modest hikes I’ve done in the US definitely hadn’t prepare me for trails that were quite this level of “feel your way.”  I probably spent more time frantically searching for handholds than many of my friends, but like them, I made it (eventually) to our destination: a fantastic waterfall spilling down from the rocky grey cliffs.

Since the footing in the river was extremely challenging, we all ended up keeping our hiking shoes on for the entire day.  I’m hoping if I leave my sneakers on the terrace for a couple days then I won’t keep hearing that squelching sound every time I take a step…

Here are some photos from today’s hike (and note: it was pretty much sheer luck that this little camera survived the day!):

One view of the river we were hiking through.

And another river view–this time taken while perched on a rock barely above the water.

A charmingly bedraggled cable bridge. That is to say, if I was afraid of heights, this thing would absolutely show up in my nightmares.

A pretty spot with pretty lighting along the hike (and yes, this is the kind of cascade we would go ahead and clamber up).

A brief overland portion of the hike

The waterfall at the end of the hike!

Now, for a flashback:

Back in the spring a group of us went hiking at a different, slightly nearer destination: the “Cahorros de Monachil.”  This was only maybe 20 min from Granada city center (again by car) and, while not quite so novel as hiking in a river, offered some spectacular experiences and views!  That was my first experience with the itsy bitsy cable bridges that seem unnervingly popular around here.  (When I call them “itsy bitsy” I refer to the level of physical/psychological support offered to the person on that bridge…not to the length!)

Here are some photos from that other, similarly awesome example of Granada’s hiking opportunities:

THAT bridge.

People more kickass than us.

Hiking by the cliff–at least here you could just walk instead of swinging away from the cliff using handholds!

The surrounding landscape.

The view next door (as we were walking back to the car).