Friday, February 4, 2011

January in the Principality

Good afternoon/morning/evening/night everyone,
Stillness. Utter, complete, total silence. Then the smooth sound of skis slicing through the thin air and a green-cloaked monitor comes to a graceful, effortless stop in front of me, snow swooshing up behind him in an arc. "hola" he mutters in his tired, Chilean or Argentinian Spanish. "bon dia" I whisper back in my apparently portuguese accented Catala. Ahhhh..... the day begins. With the groans of frozen metal and the creaks of routine, the ski lift begins its day and I'm on the first seat meeting the sun sneaking its way over the mountain half-way up the slope.

This has become one of my favorite ways to start a day. Heading out of my slumbering apartment at around 7:50 carrying my 20 year old skis and boots with me wearing my shoes and small backpack with mandarins to boot. Getting to the first gondola to the ski lift at 8:30 is described by some as utter suicide on a weekend, an action of folly suggesting that 5 months in the Principality has addled my mind but despite my dislike for mornings, I cannot disagree more vehemently. It is a beautiful thing to be the first on the slopes, cutting across the freshly ironed pistes with only the instructors whizzing by you on one ski, backwards, jumping and basically showing me how very far I have to go before I can consider myself even decent! haha, skiing has been an amazing gift to me this year. With not a lot of ability previously to ski, this has been virtually my first exposure to the sport, and surely the easiest and cheapest exposure I'll probably EVER get. Totally worth every penny and early morning I have suffered. Even the walk up my hill, which seems like Everest at the end of a day of skiing, is worth it. If you ever get the chance to come to Andorra, go skiing, you'll love it. The mornings are my favorite as they are void of the tourists who usually are as bad or worse than me and suicidal preteen/teenagers whose bones may still be rubbery but mine aren't! haha. By this first week in February, I have now clocked up 27 hours of skiing. Yes, I am counting.

What else does a 22 year old American Fulbright do in Andorra? Well, in my free time I enjoy getting coffees and/or beers with friends, whether they are crazy Irish English nut bags or equally crazy French teachers from Canada. I am privileged to get to know such crazies. You all know that I'm not one for late night shenanigans so usually I'll be found lying around the apartment on a weekend, enjoying the fact that I can be inside before 8:30 pm. I drink a lot of tea, admire our view, clean up my room, do my laundry on Saturdays or Sundays and basically just chilax and prepare for the next week. And, if I don't finish my lesson planning, or just want to edit them, I do that on the weekends too. Despite the fact that I only make one or two lessons a week-yes, I know real teachers are reading this with jealously-it takes a surprisingly long time to do so. I also do my food shopping on weekends, plus any other shopping I need, and on Sundays I traditionally make a big meal which I then plastify and keep for the following several days. yes, for leftovers. Sundays has also become our traditional going to Portuguese Chicken place where we eat fries with some sort of drug in it (we suspect), delicious rice, and chicken with some sort of spices on it that make it taste FANTASTIC, and a Portuguese Sagres beer to wash it all down. The three ladies who work there all have different personalities and all know us by sight now.  Life has a lovely rhythm, and Friday continues to be my most favoritest day of the week! oh, and of course, one of the most important elements of my life is watching football every single week watching my dear gunners fight each game to the bitter end in a bid to beat Manchester United to the crown, unlikely but I continue to hope. At least they are good this year... unlike virtually every Wake Forest sport! Oh, another thing I am doing is trying to read a bit, finally finished "Confessions of Saint Augustine" which was a fantastic, albeit difficult read and now I have started Life of Pi which is significantly easier, and a very fun read so far. it's amazing how much you can read doing so only in the bus going to and from work places. :-)

During the week, catala class, language sopar, choir, football, and tutoring keeps me busy every day. Tutoring continues to give me sincere pleasure despite the later hours, choir proves to be an enjoyable use of my time and I continue to enjoy the comradery and language challenge of both the Sopars and Catala class. Two weeks ago I had my first ever true melt-down while teaching. I have had difficult days ever since I got here and my 3cs have always proved a challenge to me but one whom I have been confident I would figure out how to channel at some point. Two weeks ago, I realized that after 5 months, my best students seemed to be getting weaker, my worse students no better, their overall English level hopeless (to be gracious) and their attitude like that of a chihuahua towards a German shepherd, utter contempt. Another similarity to this allusion, like the German Shepherd I am somehow intimidated and unable to realize that their attitude is not my problem.  I broke down.... no tears but real close. haha, anyway, after throwing three out of them of my class for the day, I talked to my head of department and then my principal came in and gave me sympathetic ears. Anyway, at the end of the day, a wonderful conversation with an angel in the form of my sister!, and a few days of sleep, I felt better about it. We shifted some students and... we'll see. Monday was still super tough, but that's just the way life is. I will continue to do what I can, research better ways to channel energy and keep discipline and ask questions but I am determined not to let them ruin my days either. If I throw my fullness into it and it still doesn't work, I just have to keep trying and hope their little teenager radars go down long enough to learn something.

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of having Antonio's birthday celebration at our apartment. Thongdam organized pretty much everything despite being sick, she and Amanda did a shopping storm to get all the food but the veggies which were my charge and then we cooked... for a long time Thongdam and I cooked! :-) well, really I just took orders and Thongdam informed me of what to do. In the end two kinds of enchiladas, lots of dipping veggies, nachos, beans, salsas, and pies resulted. And it was glorious. We had a great time, with a lot of people over

Okay, to keep this brief. The rest of February will be work world, ski world, tutoring etc. PLUS! I'm going to get to sneak out and see the Tom and Liz Ryder who are going to be in Barcelona for a cruise. That's going to be a special treat. Then the end of February happens and before I blink my eyes it'll be april and then another blink it will be May. I go to Paris at the end of February for 4 days where I'll get to see Wallace Bain, my boss and friend from Embassy days in Senegal, followed by a personal trip to Taize retreat center in Taize, France. Then I get back to Andorra just in time to run to Pamplona, Spain for a week-long Fulbright conference with a weekend going to San. Sebastian, then I teach for a week, then I go to Berlin for a week conference followed by a weekend with Sara Brucker and her boyfriend in Ulm, Germany (maybe see Stefan? from RVA days). Then I get back, teach for 3 days before heading off with my school choir to Catalonia for an All-Catalonia choir congregation where 5000 or so students will do a mega-concert. Looks to be ridiculous, loud, seriously off key, and amazing. :-) Then I'll be here in Andorra for a full 2 weeks before heading off to Morocco to visit my dormparents from high school, my old (actually young but old in terms of time) math teacher, and hopefully seeing a friend from Wake. At the end of that trip (easter) I will crown it with a weekend in Madrid, crashing Madridites' couch and watching the Madrid open for a day. I will finally return to Andorra much poorer, probably quite fatigued, tired of the 3 pairs of clothes I will be using during my travels and ready to settle down for the final drive. It is weird to think but... I pretty much have everything from here until May charted out... strange, but virtually true. Sometime in the next few months I need to do: taxes (don't forget to give your $1 for public campaigning ya'll! let's try to get back to that... I'm tired of wasting money on hateful t.v. ads), find a job if my desired one doesn't work out, and keep sane. Plus a haircut, September to December without a cut was a bit much and I want to be a bit neater this time... Maybe I'll do that this weekend. Hopefully I will at least update during the week I'm here in March if I don't squeeze out another quick one before leaving at the end of February.

Tonight, we are (hopefully) having guests from Spain over for dinner, then it's football practice, then sleep then tutoring early tomorrow morning before perhaps skiing with a friend from school, and food shopping... should be a good time! :-) Sunday is a ski day with Jordi, the music teacher, and then laundry, cooking part of life. :-). The quote of the month goes to our friend Kamran who visited from Barcelona-Andorra: "Where good things happen"!


As always, thanks for taking the time to read up on my daily life-I know it's not really that exciting-and for your thoughts, prayers, and what you mean to me. Know I often miss family and friends despite being confident I am where I should be. I would ask you to pray for me particularly during travel, during my weekend retreat at Taize, and as I seek out opportunit(ies) for next year. For patience, peace, and that the right situation at the right time will become obvious to me when it needs to be.

Peace and Love from the Principality,
Mark Titus Hoover