Friday, October 31, 2008

Lucas Rex

My friends, I have big news to share with you. I BOUGHT A CELL PHONE. I didn't even hit the caps hey there. My computer was just THAT EXCITED.

Yes, I went to the store, talked to the owner, and bought a prepaid cell phone. All in Spanish! In Spain! AND (get this) the phone has a color screen. You may not feel the full force of this announcement, but this is the first time that I have owned a phone that isn't prohibitively obsolete. When I got my last phone (which I still have), the Cingular guy went out back and unearthed a time capsule to retrieve the apparatus. With it were some buttons for Eisenhower. So, take that for what it is worth. But this one came in a box. One with no dirt on it. I walked home feeling triumphant.

Oh, and I get text messages now. My last phone actually sent messages via cuneiform on clay tablets, so this is a step up indeed.

More good things: with a phone, comes a phone number. With a phone number, I can advertise my private lessons and get some more bank. And travel more, and buy pearls and such.

Included is a picture of my phone. And a burgeoning beard.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Things are bound to be improving, these days

I have not felt like myself lately.

If you have read this with any regularity, you know I've been a bit down since coming to Spain. I've had more than a little trouble adjusting to being here. In truth, I don't think I have been here much at all. My thoughts had all turned to worry and my heart was far away from me. I prayed for an excuse to leave, hinting especially hard that God give me a temporarily debilitating disease that would leave no trace upon its exit the moment I set foot on a United State. It was not a time of moral or rational victory, indeed.

For your worry I have caused, I am sorry. For your emails, comments, messages, and especially prayers, I am grateful beyond words. For your care, love, and friendship, I thank our God.

I offered the whole-hearted love of a broken-hearted man to a beautiful woman. I became angry at myself, at her, and at God when things didn't go as it could have, and hope was hard to come by when what I wanted wavered continually between possible and impossible.

But then the realization. That simple truth, the love of my youth. How can I be angry? I am a sinner, and God forgave me. How can I rage and whine and waste a heart that could be better spent loving? What other option do I have in light of being forgiven? In light of all the glory that the Lord has made? Surely I cannot be angry. I must forgive, and love, in turn.

And so I decided. I am no longer waiting for what will not come, as doing so has spent and exhausted all hope from inside of me. I am going to return to being who God created me to be. Nothing great, nothing impressive. A simple man. A sinner become sanctified. A man that shows God's love to and learns God's love from every heart. A man that depends on God alone. The Lord will be my portion.

Yes, I think things will be looking up.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Return to Form

My hopes are that this entry will be more Spanish and less . . . emo. I thought it would be a good idea to tell you more about my work environment, specifically the teachers and students.

Most of my students are from ages 11-16, although I do meet with some that are older. They are very inquisitive, and seem to enjoy my being around. They ask great questions, like if I like the Family Guy and what alcoholic beverages we drink in the United States. One guy asked if I drink Duff beer, and I had to try really hard not to laugh as I told him that Duff only exists in the Simpsons.

The English program here is still in its infancy, and so we often have a failure to communicate. Even when they are asking English, I try my best not to turn immediately to the professor with desperate, entreating eyes, begging for an explanation. They are fascinated that I would drive so far to work in the summers, and overjoyed that I voted for Obama before I left.

The young ones are a handful, but they are entertaining. One day I wore my purple shirt and tie combo, and I caught a couple of the girls in the back actually doing that thing where they rest their heads in one hand, looking ready to sigh at any moment. Another girl was being teased for being enamored with a much older boy, and as I offered her relationship advice (as a joke, of course) one student fell out of her chair laughing.

The teachers are also fun. One, Elena, tries to show off her English in front of me and makes my day every time we are together. One activity had the students coloring shapes according to warm and cool "families," which Jorge found very confusing and he mixed the colors. Elena came over, looked at his worksheet, and told him plainly, "Your colors are ugly and your family is horrible."

Marta, the P.E. teacher, came in this morning and announced in English, "Good morning. Shut up." Another period I spent teaching the children knock-knock jokes, and they enjoyed the interrupting cow one especially.

My private lessons, though, are hit-or-miss. I began meeting with ten-year-old Andrea the other day, who spent almost the entirety of the hour crying into the notebook pressed against her face as her mother asked me about animal names.

My Spanish is improving and I am going to Toledo tomorrow and the day after. I get paid soon, which will be nice. I am very cold at night, and my pillow is only foam insulation stuffed in a cylinder of ratty cloth. Hahaha. I'll leave you with that visual.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Decision

Yesterday I wrote of being unsure what to do. Things have fallen apart around me and I have nothing to show for months of. . .whatever dramatic thing you want to call it. But I know what I will do. I have decided.

I will continue to love.

I will continue to write to her in my journal, to care for her, and to think of her. I will buy a guitar and sing for her, even if she does not yet listen.

Maybe then she will see. Maybe then she will turn and remember her love of old.

For love is greater than time or distance. Love is slave to no power, and will not end as long as my heart beats.

"Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy as unyielding as the grave."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Did she wake you up to tell you that it was only a change of plan?

I confess to you, I feel lost.

My greatest fear has always been that no one would be able to love me. Someone convinced me of otherwise and now. . .this. I thought things were getting better, but I was wrong.

I simply do not know what to do. What to do with the journal I kept for her? Or the necklace I bought in Toledo? What to do with the pictures of myself I collected to send her? What to do with the music mix I was preparing? What to do with the flowers pressed and drying in my Bible, in between poetry and prose and pictures of her? What to do with my Christmas break, since she doesn't want me to visit her?

I don't even want to acknowledge that Christmas will be. It is the holiday to spend with loved ones, and I will be here, alone. Now I have spare time and spare money and I don't want either.

I am sorry to write this depressing mess, but it is all that is on my mind. I cannot get my mind off of it. It is no easy thing to walk a mile and spend three dollars just to hear the One my Heart Loves tell me she doesn't even know how she feels about me anymore. And then to pour my heart out to her and find that she isn't even at the computer, reading what I said.

How can a heart change so much in four weeks? How can distance change a person?

It is all undone.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lucas Jumps Ship

I attended my first Mass yesterday.

You have no idea how desperately I miss church. I think back to Searcy where the churches were everywhere and full of loving people. I enjoyed Highway's preaching and singing very much, and there were always many friends to be found there. And the Bible studies on Wednesdays! There were innumerable options. And Dowtown's singing service on Sunday nights!

In Sonseca, there is my Bible and the waiting for Arturo to leave the house so I can sing. I tired quickly of worshiping as an island, and tentatively went to my first Catholic Mass.

Walking there, I saw several professors and students from the school giggled and shouted my name from farther down the street. I entered behind a man and mimicked him as I applied holy water in my first genuflex. I sat with my back straight as the board under me, waiting for signals as to what I should do. Some people were kneeling on the planks attached to the backs of pews (which are simply, like I said, flat boards) and praying, but I sat and waited. The priest came out and lifted his hands like I have seen in many paintings and prayed, inviting the assembly to join in the "Sacred Mysteries" of our Lord.

The choir sang from one side of the nave and it was stunning. Listening to them while I viewed the golden altar and decorations, I understood why cathedrals were built like this for so long. It really feels like some step between heaven and earth. We genuflected more and the rest of the brothers and sisters recited catechisms that I did not recognize, and similar songs. We stood and sat and stood again in a way that would make Harding chapel-goers groan loudly.

The priest exposited the "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, to God what is God's" passage while stressing that our faith is not one of slavery, but of freedom. Freedom through love, freedom because of love, and freedom to love.

I did not participate in the Eucharist, although I miss communion dearly. The priest lifted the plates and someone in the wings rattled jingle bells that I think marked the point of transubstantiation. After, the priest thoroughly and lovingly cleaned the dished with towels before sending them away by the altar boys.

Then it was over. The man next to me bolted immediately, and the rest of the believers crowded and pushed to get out of there as quickly as possible. Outside, the jocularity and idle chatter resumed once more and I headed home.

It was more thought-provoking than edifying as of yet, but hopefully this will change.

Oh, and the title of this post really makes me giggle.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I have now been to the city that I have dreamed about for seven years now. From the first time I saw "Vista de Toledo" by El Greco, I wanted to be there.

I got off the bus and called my friends, getting no answer. I tried to suppress the same fear that I felt when the same thing happened in Madrid, and opted to start walking into the city. The first gate I decided to enter, there were Claire and Shalon! Being reunited is a beautiful thing, and we began to enjoy Toledo together.

We found the Plaza Zocodover and watched bizarre street performers, sitting down at a McDonalds to get a quick drink for the warm day. We caught up on our respective "Spain Experiences" and I was relieved to find that they think about going home every day, just like I do. They had frustrations, as well, but it seems that their school faculties have done more of an intentional job of welcoming them and showing them a good time. We all miss home and shared memories and surprise over the fact that McDonalds serves beer here (we got tea and ice cream, just to note).

We walked past the Alcazar, which is being renovated and is draped in a horrendous yellow construction net, thus ruining about half of the city´s famous skyline. We took pictures and looked like tourists and spoke in English and it was good. I didn´t feel homesick with them. We got lost together several times in the laberinthine alleyways, then I heard my name called.

Three people (one German, two Welsh) that I met at the orientation at the very onset of this trip were doing the tourist thing as well, and they remembered me. I was shocked at how much I had missed the sensation of unexpectedly running into people you know. And considering that it was in a different country, no less, it was special.

We observed a parador (old castles renovated into lovely hotels) and I took a lot of pictures. We went to a tapas bar and ate fried food. We talked relationships and marriage (typical Harding fare) and home and loneliness and it was simple and good. Our day ended at the bus station, eating sweets, Shalon telling me that a girl was checking me out, and a lot of laughing. I haven´t laughed so much in the entire time I´ve been in this country.

I settled into my comfy bus seat on the way back to Sonseca, happy to listen on my mp3 player to songs I had written long ago. I relaxed and ignored the girl seated next to me as she stared at me from time to time. I only smiled as I thought of warm memories.

Disembarking in Sonseca, the best way to end the day was visiting the local Chinese restaurant. I ate "Kun-Bao Chicken" and then found my bill comped by the owners, parents of one of my students from the Institute.

It was a good day, and one I needed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Address

I think I am meeting my friends in Toledo tomorrow, so, I guess pray that they go this time?

Also, here is my postal address, in case you want it.

Lucas Matthews
c/ Pasaje de la Ballesta #4
45100 Sonseca

I think that is enough, but go ahead and ask the Post Office workers anyway. They never have anything to do.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If You See Something About a Stolen Bicycle on the News. . .

But first some things to note.

One: I have begun giving private lessons to some people here, in English. The majority of the time is spent in Spanish, as their English is almost non-existent.

Two: I have now entered the local church as well as the shrine to the Virgin Mary. I will be attending the former on Sunday, I believe. I asked Mario what the services were like, and he had no idea what I was talking about until I remembered to ask about "Masses" instead. They are only one hour, in contrast to the stereotypes I heard from TV growing up. I will let you know how it goes.

Three: I have decided to grow my beard. I will post a picture when it is respectable.

So, there are good days and bad days here. Yesterday was a bad day and I wound up taking a walk on a dirt road until I found myself in the next town over, Ajofrin. Judging from the name, garlic must have been very important there at some point. I sat down in front of the church and prayed. I heard Julieta Venegas being played behind me and it made me feel in love. Then the church began ringing its bell, which chimed 83 times. I have no idea why. Then I walked back and read until I fell asleep.

Today was decent. I took my first trip to the equivalent of the post office here, which was something of an ordeal. First, I went by a papeleria to buy an envelope, and then I went to the school for a brief meeting. After getting directions to the P.O., I began walking and saw that I might not have time to get there and back before my class.

So I grabbed one of the bikes that a student left in front of the school and rode there.

It was something totally uncharacteristic of me, which left me giggling the entire way. I completed my business and came back, leaving the bike where it was before. No one was any the wiser, and I kept smiling all the way to class.

After school, some students came by my house for a lesson. We walked and they whispered to each other when they didn´t know what to say, but we talked poetry and had a decent time. Ana has an enormous house, and it is nice to be welcomed into another home always.

I suppose that is all for now. Making it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Brief Explanation

I wrote an entry the other day without knowing that more than a mere smattering of people read this. It turned out to be a slightly substantial smattering, and so I removed what I wrote. But I did not write it with the intent of denigrating anyone. On the contrary, it was written out of a powerful and painful love.

There is not much to say that I haven't already. I miss how good things used to be. I miss talking to her on the phone while I was in Hawaii, still getting to know her, and seeing a shooting star make its path across the sky. Much later, she came to Colorado and on top of mountains we saw several shooting stars together. We walked over rivers and through botanical gardens and watched two butterflies circle overhead.

Creations sings when we are together! Nature celebrates when we are joined! Because, clearly, things are as they should be.

That is what I miss, and what I yet want.

That is all I will say of the matter.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More about Madrid

In the interest of having something less maudlin meet visitors to my blog, here is more information on my recent trip to Madrid.

I found a local hostel where the owner seemed to see something in my eyes that kept him from conversation. I was grateful for this, paid the fee, and found myself in my room. Finding myself at the door, number 17, it was worth the cost of stay for the mere fact of using the key. It was one of those old, classic, archetypal keys that go in a lock through which you can see into the other room.

Entering, the room was a white 8' by 8' box with a bed that would cramp two people, a dresser, and a sink. I unpacked nothing and got into bed, almost shocked to find myself warm (at my house I haven't had much more than two thin sheets, and it gets very cold at night). I fell asleep very fast with tiny thoughts in my mind about how I should take my contacts out or how I should turn off the light. But I was gone.

The next morning I went to the Prado museum, which was a treat. Sitting in front, a man asked me directions to some Government Ministry and I sent him off still seeking. But I was grateful to be taken for someone who at least had some sense of direction, especially while feeling like I had none.

I wandered into the museum and got to see works by El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Raphael, Heironymous Bosch, Rubens, and others. El Greco is my favorite painter, and I had to remind myself to blink while looking at his works. Two highlights include "Las Meninas" and "Saturno," the latter of which is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen.

I left after three hours with very tired legs and resumed my trek through the city. I found myself at a Thai restaurant, where I got to sit by the window. I was amused to watch all of the white men reacting as I did to the menu, stopping and pondering. I was also a bit distracted by the fact that so many couples walked by hand in hand. It seems that everyone in that city has someone, and I was alone.

Madrid is no city to see alone. I was more excited to be going there to see friends than I was to simply be going there, and so my trip ended that night. I walked some more, was almost hit by a bus, and then rode to Toledo and back to Sonseca.

I learned a lot from my trip, at the very least. I learned how to pack better for the next trip. And I learned to wear either shoes or to simply wrap my feet in gauze, because they are bleeding all over the place. And I have never seen so many furniture stores or so much graffiti. And it was nice to speak a slower, more intelligible Spanish for a change.

Some beautiful things I saw: two fifty-year-olds sharing a brief and sweet kiss in front of Goya's portrait of Carlos IV's family, the many elderly pairs walking slowly and hand-in-hand, a young couple sharing a single cigarette between the two of them at the bus station, and a couple leaving the train station with one pack containing both of their belongings, each of them holding one handle of the duffle bag between them, never allowed to stray far from the other as a result.

And then the radio played "Karma Chameleon" on the bus ride back.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My First Trip to Madrid

"Was decent," is how the rest of the title should read.

I was very excited for this trip, and overpacked accordingly into my backpack and laptop bag. I went to the bus stop twenty minutes early, eager to see new things but even more eager to see familiar faces with which to share these memories.

My excitement and my face fell when the bus still had not arrived twenty minutes after its scheduled stop, so instead I hopped on a bus to Toledo with plans to find a Madrid-bound one at the station. This all happened without a hitch, and two hours after the trip began I found myself approaching a glowing city. The further we got into her, the more perplexed I became that any one city could require so many furniture stores. There were large chain markets like Mercador, Despenso, Leroy Merlin, and Carrefour. The most shocked I was, I am a little ashamed to admit, was when we passed a Burger King. It seemed like something from a past life; it felt like a memory. But it was only bricks and grease.

We arrived at the southern station, so I made expensive pay-phone calls to both the girls I was planning to meet and got an answer from neither. I had no idea what to do, but I knew that I was in the south of the city, so I began walking north.

An hour later I could feel my heels bleeding from wounds received the day before, but I pressed on until I reached a train station I recognized from my first view of the city. I searched for a store that was still open and bought a pack of oreos so that I could use the coin-operated phones and called one of the girls, who then informed me that she and the other girl had decided to wait two days to come to Madrid.


was my response.

You see, we had set out the broad primary plans for this trip last week on a Facebook discussion. There it was suggested that we meet up on Thursday and enjoy the weekend there and stay for church on Sunday. However, the two girls made other plans, I came to find, through private conversation. In the Facebook discussion, there was only a brief mention that they were thinking about a different day, but this was never followed up on or elaborated.

The payphone I was on ran out of money, and I was not unhappy. I have little patience for excuses. The simple truth was that there was a little miscommunication, a bit more noncommunication, and I feel excluded and unimportant.

I hung up the phone and let my hand rest on the receiver for a full minute before I turned to face the great sea of people before me. Then I turned back around and entered a Burger King, hoping that calories would quiet the grumbles inside of me besides just my stomach's.

I decided to stay the night (my only option, as it was already late) and leave the next day. I did not have money enough for so much time by myself, as I had counted on splitting lodging costs. I used that as an excuse rather than the feeling of defeat, which was another very good reason.

I suppose I will write more of the trip later. It was not terrible, just a little painful. So it goes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

El Instituto La Sisla

I realized today that I have not told you much about my school itself. Before I left, I had no idea what I would be doing here besides teaching English, and I had no idea to whom or how or when or anything, really. All I knew was the order "show up in Spain" and the rest was up to me. It is still a little dizzying to think about all that brought me here.

But: my school is the typical middle and high school, except with some differences. There are six periods in each day with two small breaks, and the weeks are two rotating schedules, A and B. One week is A, the next B, and then A again. Clear? Here the students stay for the most part in one classroom and the teachers rush from class to class. This, I admit, is a bit more logical than my high school, where the hallways flooded and filled at every bell and just barely were cleared in time. But the classes here stay together throughout the day, and it would be silly to herd them around like sheep.

The program that I am in teaches English, but mainly through an immersion-type format. There is an English class devoted to grammar, but classes like Technology, Physical Education, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences are also taught in English (to varying degrees). French is also taught a bit, as I found some on the board when I entered my class today.

The teachers are very nice and professional, and love to talk. Many are intimidated by me thanks to the edict that they must talk to me in English (so that they can practice), so this has been a little frustrating for me.

The students are very curious, and range from incredibly shy (at trying to speak English, at least) to very adventurous and willing to say anything, even if they sound silly. My students are mainly 11-15, although I go to two classes a week that are not on my set schedule that are usually older, 17 or 18. The younger ones are more proficient at English, except for the girls that giggle when I enter the room and blush when I ask them what is so funny.

I am a minor celebrity here, and the students yell my name in the hallways and say "hello" as they pass, or they wave from their bikes or pound on the bus windows as they leave school and I begin my walk home. It is kind of fun, but I am trying to get them to feel comfortable with me. My goal has changed from "GET THE SPANISH EXPERIENCE!!!" to a real desire to help these students learn English, and in turn to do well in all of their studies. I made a deal that if they speak to me in English in the hallways, I will speak Spanish. They always smile devilishly when I introduce this idea to new classes.

So, this is a brief introduction of where I work, and I am glad to be there. It is a good school, and I hope to be beneficial to the staff and kids. At the very least, it is worth being here to be called "Mister Matthews."

Now I'm off to Madrid! I might write soon, or catch up in a few days.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Alberto, Cristina, Alberto, y Cristina

I mentioned the other day that I am very sad after leaving Alberto's house, and this is true. I got to the country with no plans and got to my city with no plans, and this man opened up his house when his neighbors think such an act to be foolish.

They gave me a bed, food, and let me be a part of the family for several days. They continually were afraid of being poor hosts due to watching after their two children (named after them, hence the title of this post), but in reality they showed me better hospitality than I could imagine. They fed me well after I went two days having only eaten a sandwich, and they drove me to nearby cities and invited me on walks.

I am so glad for staying there. I learned a lot about the city and country and the people that would have taken me months to learn otherwise, and I learned even more about how to have and to raise and to cherish a family that I could not learn from any other one place.

I watched as Alberto and Cristina smothered their two children in kisses, gave compliments for nothing more than having eaten food, talked seriously but with care about what Alberto Jr. learned in school today, and taught them both to speak better. How they celebrated when Cristina Jr. finished the word "RO. . .JO"! And how they looked at each other when Alberto was misbehaving, and they put him in the carseat in the garage for five minutes, all the while reminding him "I love you more than anything in the world, but you must learn." How they held and helped and hoped for their little ones!

I learned the words for both forms of relieving oneself by their children doing it in the kitchen while I focused much attention on picking bones from my sole (the fish). I watched them eat the last bits of the kids' food when Alberto Jr. turned his head, so that they could congratulate him on a clean plate. I watched Alberto drive and shift with one arm while consoling his fussy daughter in the backseat with his other. I watched them sit and go over the same words over and over, and share the same love over and over.

Alberto and Cristina (Jrs.) began to expect me, and Alberto Sr. told me today that his son asked where I was. After letting me teach him about my camera, taking innumerable pictures of him, and receiving a tiny kiss on the cheek each night before he went to bed, Alberto misses me.

Oh, I cannot wait to have children of my own, to teach them everything I know and to learn more just to share it with them. To love them fully, and to keep them safe. To show them the world and to help them see God's hand in it. To let them fall asleep on my chest. To take them to stores, on hikes, and on drives. To take such pride in my wife and my children, and the fact that there is nothing more in this world that I want beyond that.

I cannot wait to feel this sort of love.

My only wonder is that, in light of their two children being named after the both of them, what will Alberto and Cristina name the one growing within her right now?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Don´t read this if you are prone to worrying?

Today was an important day, but a hard one. I went to classes and they were nothing to write home about. Then I went home, slept to make up for a restless night, and then moved into my new house.

Normally this would be more of an ordeal, but I simply threw all of my belongings into my two rolly-bags, backpack, and laptop bag, and walked four minutes. Then I was moved? It is odd but this is the truth.

But moving in has made me feel very. . .off. I feel like I did the first night here, when I lay awake all night after desperately hoping to talk to people online in a crappy locutorio. Right now I am in the same locutorio, feeling the same loneliness.

I walked half of the city limits tonight, trying to find something to photograph, to make something lovely. But instead I was mocked by the early-closed restaurants, the couples walking hand-in-hand, and the apartments sealed up with lights inside ablaze. This city is well on its way into living, and I feel like there is no room for me here. There is no University and thus no one my age. There hardly appears to be anyone single, and I am not bold enough to strike up a conversation with a couple making googly eyes at each other.

I keep worrying over the fact that I left behind in the States a woman who cares about me. This seems to me a foolish thing. What if she tires of my being away? Such a good thing surely cannot happen twice, and even if it could I only want her.

And now I moved out of Alberto´s family´s house, and this is a scary thing. They took care of me, explained things for me, fed me, spoke slowly to me, and there were children to play with and draw pictures for. Now I have to buy my own groceries, prepare my own meals, and learn to be even more alone. They had two cars and food and great hearts. What do I have?

As I unpacked for the first time, a sense of semi-permanence fell on me. And the quiet of the house I share with another professor screams louder than the two children whose yelling I learned to sleep to.

I confess to you reading this, and this is no easy thing to type, that I am very lonely. My heart hurts. I do not want to worry you, but I am not a good liar. Please pray for me, I guess is what I´m trying to get to.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sonseca is for Lovers. . .and old men.

I am thoroughly convinced that the best way for a foreigner to understand and to know a city is to walk and become lost in her several times. To this end I am making great strides, but found myself today at my intended destination, a large plaza in front of a church. There is an arch, wooden collonades covered in vines, a fountain with children taking pictures in front of it, and many old men talking animatedly.

Now I will tell you a bit about what I have observed in Sonseca, my city. It is a fully Spanish town of 11,000 people, relatively new and still growing. There are some houses here with windows surrounded by bullet-holes from the Civil War that saw limited stagin here, but there are many buildings new and expanding. Driving out of Madrid I counted fourteen cranes in less than 1/2 mile, busy in construction, and here there are perhaps four in the city.

The past thirty years have been good and prosperous for the city, especially in the areas of furniture and fabrics. Lately, though, many of these factories closed to outsource production to China, resulting in a rash of defaulted loans taken out in better times. The city is limping forward but makes no scene of its troubles, and indeed hides them behind a cheery optimism manifest in the many new construction projects.

There is a strong Muslim influence and several smaller operations have arabic writing on the windows. Perhaps a fourth of the city is Muslim, but I do not see much evidence of their great presence besides small touches in the architecture and some women in shrouds.

I have seen no fast food here, and the bars are plentiful. Watiting at one for an acquaintance last night, the bartender looked up at all with a heavy-lidded stare from a downturned face while crashing dishes before people, attempting no conversation. The customers were not overly concerned by this. The other businesses I pass seem opportunistic in their names; I have seen a "Conde de Orgaz" and an "El Greco," but they are both restaurants and not paintings.

The people are garrulous and much taken to passing time in idle chatter, and I hope to be more included in this someday. Or to join the old men walking bent-over with their hands folded behind their backs, or the old men smoking cigarettes and riding bicycles. Perhaps I will be included. For now, I remain a foreigner, and lost.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I got up at seven this morning after two hours of sleep and left my bags with the wife of the owner of the hotel. It took fifteen minutes to walk to and find my school, el IES La Sisla. I went to the secretary where a man entered, sized me up and called me ¨Lucas Matthews.¨

So they have been expecting me. I wondered if they were aware of my existence, much less my arrival! I was brought back to meet the male group of directors enjoying a cafe and incomprehensibly greasy churros. These sounded unappealing to my yet-empty stomach, but I received them and dipped the latter in the former, in the fashion of the men. I was of great interest to them at first but receded into the background as they resumed conversation.

My directora found me and speaks a heavily British English, which is charming. I sat in a meeting of English teachers who seemed intimidated to speak to me in my tongue. They (eight women, one man) asked me how I say my name and laughed saucily at my pronunciaton as if I had said something flirtatious.

I attended two classes where the students were very shy, the young girls blushing and giggling to the point of being unable to speak. I waited and fielded questions, like ¨Do you have a girlfriend?¨ (this was the first question, and is much too difficult to answer in my current situation, so I replied ¨More or less.¨) After introductions Sra. Prado sensed my fatigue and let me go a bit early, so I sat outside to write this.

A bell rang and the school exploded with noise from every open window of scraping chairs and pushed desks and closing bags and idle chatter being picked up only to die out gradually when the bell rings once more. This is a different school than mine, no doubt, but the students are still awkwardly stumbling toward pubescence and still sporting the unfortunate bangs and mullets and windbreakers. They kick and threaten and clap and call out ¨Tu madre¨and tease the opposite sex and perhaps I am not so foreign after all.

But this is not home. One teacher asked me where home is and I almost replied, ¨Harding University until she leaves there¨ but on a quick second thought I decided that ¨Kentucky¨was much simpler, even though their only point of reference for this is the fried chicken of which they are enthusiastic devotées.

The students are yelling at me and waving from windows on the second floor, and merely staring from the third. I do not mind being an oddity, for it brings with it the assumption and usually illusion of being special, unique, and valuable. To these I make no claim, but for now I will correct no assumptions either.

Things are getting better, no doubt. I just ate my first true meal in two days, and I feel strong. Now I just need a decent internet connection that can support Skype.

Feel free to comment, to let me know that you are reading. I have no idea if anyone sees this.