Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Where the Demons Dwell! Where the Banshees Live, and They Do Live Well!

First off, I respect you if you know what I am about to say judging from this post's title.

Today we went on a guided tour, which is kind of against everything that makes me who I am. I dislike them with the same sentiments I feel towards Guide Books and their amazing powers to make tourists stop suddenly in the middle of sidewalks, disrupting any possibility of natural movement.

Anyhow, the cost of travel and admission was not much less than the tour itself so it seemed a good way to have the entire day planned for us. Sure enough, we were driven around via a heated bus, called "my darlings" by the guide, and it was difficult to suppress my urge to say "baa" constantly as the herd moved from glass case to glass case.

But enough griping. This is a painfully brief walk-through of the day: First we went to Windsor Castle, which was a marvel in its decadence, housing the richest woman in the world (Her Majesty). From there we went to Stonehenge (and hence the Spinal Tap lyrics in the title above), which is hard to describe in words. Lastly we saw Bath and the Roman (wait for it) bath that is surrounded by a museum.

It is late and I am tired (and unmistakably ill), but I will put up photos one of these days, I'm sure. Sometime next year, I imagine.

Monday, December 29, 2008

London Calling

I am in a new country, on vacation from a country that is not my home. This is almost surreal.

But I am here, in England. Things are different, to be sure. I hear English while I am walking down the street, but I also hear French, German, Italian, and others whose categorical names I don't even know. It is very cold here, and the sun is gone by 4:30 in the afternoon. It seems that I am getting ill, and so my strength is usually gone by that time, too.

But I am seeing lovely things. The architecture is breathtaking, moving me to tears in St. Paul's Cathedral. I recited (most of) the Apostles' Creed there with many, many people and sang in a familiar tongue to God Most High, then heard a sermon in the same familiar tongue. Sitting there, surrounded by gold and decoration and praise and love and wondering how heaven could show all of this up, was one of the most beautiful feelings I have known.

Claire and I have spent a lot of time on the Underground, on buses, and on foot traversing this huge city. And we have barely seen a small portion of it. It is amazing to think of how many souls there are walking through the streets, lighting up the apartments, clogging up and stinking up the tube stations. And then to think that each of them has a fully formed, intricate life full of hopes and pain and love and hate and victories and failures. And then to think that God Most High knows all of this. Even though he feels so far some days, he knows. He is here.

I haven't much to say right now, but there is much on my mind. There are important decisions to be made, so please pray that I make good ones. (And to preempt any questions, I'm not talking about deciding on whom to smooch on New Year's) Yes, there is much on my mind.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Quick Note

This is a brief note to mention something that I may not have before. I am going to London on Friday. Has this been said? Even my best friend didn't know until yesterday. But that is where I will be, and I may be posting a bit from there when I get some free time.

I am surprisingly not as bummed as I was about not spending Christmas at home. Make no mistake, there is nowhere I would rather be right now than shoveling the drive with my Dad and listening to Sufjan Stevens's Christmas music with my Mom. But today I received a package from them that made me feel not-so-far-away, for a change.

I have the best parents in the world, it is worth mentioning.

Tomorrow I am off to the town of Socuellamos to spend Christmas with Sha'lon and Claire, and then we fly out of Madrid together the next day.

Aaand I just got a call, with an invitation to go to the local theater and see a concert. So I'm off! Until next time!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I didn't have to hop the fence to use the internet at the Institute right now because it is torn down for some construction project over break, which begins on Wednesday. And I am writing now because I am not sure if I will be able to tomorrow.

This was a good weekend. The party in Toledo was quite a lot of fun, and I remained sober. I am glad, not least because I would have missed the other teachers getting sloshed. (If you want to quickly learn who the creepy coworkers are, serve wine. Oh, gosh. I will write more on that night some other day.) And yesterday Claire and I went to Madrid, and were almost crushed by the insane crowds. It was absolutely wild, but not in the angry-consumers-beating-each-other way of the US. It was simply crowded and not obnoxiously so, at least until we tried to get onto the Metro.

But today, I was walking back from the bus stop and Alberto drove up with his kids in tow. He asked if I would like to come along for lunch and for a couple of trips, as the weather today was absolutely perfect. And so we went, to the top of a low mountain where we could see much of Castilla-La Mancha, and then to a watch tower built by Muslims in the 9th or 10th century. We climbed things, like men do.

But the real treat was this: all day, I got to watch Cristinita. She is not quite two, but is learning to recognize some words and has so much more personality just since I got here. She walked by my side most of the way, occasionally stopping to pick up a rock to throw at a fencepost. Then she would run up to me, and I would run just ahead of her which inexplicably made her squeal with laughter. I slowed down, and she grasped my pointer finger and we continued the ascent.

At the top, she and her brother became very tired. Cristina lay her head on my leg, and Albertito his on her shoulder. I put my arm around the both of them and we looked across the many miles of Spain. Once we left, I carried Cristina for a while after she got scared by a tiny old-lady dog. To get her mind off of that, I ran and made a sound effect like flying, which she imitated immediately. For a minute or so, our entire conversation consisted of making the same sound effect, back and forth, and throwing a fist ahead of us, and then we laughed.

She pulled the toboggan off of my head causing my instinctual head-shake to put my hair back in place. She found this very funny, and began pulling my hat off and shaking her own head in front of me, trying to get me to repeat the motion. Of course I did, and we laughed together more.

Many of the best conversations require no words. This was a good and lovely day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

El Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Today I went with the second-year students to Madrid with the goal of visiting the art museum named in the title above. The trip went off without a hitch, although I was not pleased at getting up so early. We got stuck in the typical traffic and Prado (our sub-director) got ill on the bus ride, and the students complained about every little temperature variant in the bus ride (have I mentioned yet that Spaniards are whiny babies? It is the truth), but we got there.

And it was special. When Prado announced the groups and their teacher-chaperones, the students cheered at being under my command. We walked through the three floors and I realized that I was having a great time explaining the seventy pieces we focused on. I have always enjoyed fine art and paintings, but I never knew that it was so fun trying to share that enthusiasm. Our art teacher Elena gave the chaperones guides of things to talk about, but my students and I simply conversed.

We saw an incredibly realistic painting of Jesus after his crucifixion and Tanya gasped at the pain displayed. I sighed over El Greco's mastery of color and texture, as I always do. I tried to explain some abstract paintings that were actually quite beautiful, and felt a rush of joy when the students leaned their heads back in realization and said, "Ahhh. . .". They complained towards the end of being tired (we did see a lot of pieces, and they are Spaniard Whiny Babies) but then rushed into the gift shop with renewed energy.

And on the bus ride back the teachers gossiped about who is going to get drunk at the Christmas party tomorrow, how super-sexy Elena is going to dress up for the occasion, and which of the students is dating whom.

And they are still talking about who got drunk at last year's shindig.

I spent most of the ride fielding questions from the students. They have a lot of questions, in truth. About how we celebrate New Year's at home, if I am going home for the holidays (I am not), why I am wearing sandals in December, and so on. They love talking about Obama, and ask me my opinions on absolutely every trivial matter you can imagine. Before I left, Maria asked me if I am coming back to teach again next year, and I was touched.

It was a good day, full of art and far away from the classroom. It was a treat.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Jimmy is my new student as of this last week, and I think you may enjoy hearing about him.

He called one afternoon as I was just about to go to another private lesson, and he spoke very softly from a "Private Number" on my Caller ID. He asked if I had time for classes, and I asked when he would like to begin, thinking he would try to book a spot for after Christmas break, but he answered, "today." So we settled on a time, and I left my house.

Later that night the hour came around and I didn't actually expect him. He still hadn't told me his name or anything, and part of me always wonders if new appointments are kids from school playing pranks after they get my cell number from the posters around town. But the bell rang ten minutes late (and thus, on time) and we sat at the table.

First he pulled out an English murder mystery novel, and announced that he would read to me. It was understood that I was to correct his pronunciation, but I enjoyed him saying that. I soon realized that he did not need much correction, and after a few pages he stopped and announced that we would talk to each other.

It turns out that he has only been studying English with any effort since one year ago, adding that his father always dreamed that his son would live in the USA.

His father died, one year ago.

Jimmy watches movies in English (which annoys the heck out of his family), listens to American music, and talks to anyone he can just to practice (often his younger sister, who also wants to learn the language). He broke up with his girlfriend so that he would have more time to study. He works daily with his mother as servants in the house of a Count (whose son I may be teaching after break), trying to save money so that he can see his father's side of the family again in Ecuador. Then he is going to be a pilot, in the States.

As he left, I suggested that he bring his sister along next time. His face was clearly showing worry when he asked how much that would cost, for two people, but then broke out in a bright smile when I told him not to worry about it.

As busy as he is, I don't know how much longer he will be my student. In the meantime it is wonderful to see the ambition and hope in his heart. If you ever have a pilot announce softly to the plane that Jimmy is your pilot, bang on the cabin door and give him one more person to talk to.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

To Be Loved

In my head I keep hearing what my grandfather told me almost two years ago as he lay dying, "You can always tell when someone likes you." He said this in response to me telling him that I was proud of the man he was, and that my father thought the world of him. He first replied, "I know it."

To be loved is a wonderful thing. To know that you are loved, truly astounding. Here is a memory that helps keep me warm while Spain keeps getting colder.

This past summer I worked again with my church in Grand Junction, Colorado. I stayed later than normal, as I had no university classes to return to. It was different, trying to plan youth group stuff alongside all their school activities and seeing their attention fade and shift to other things, but it was a treat to be with them longer.

When my time came to a close, I had a lot of trouble in finding a good "last lesson" until deciding to tell them what I realized I hadn't explicitly said enough: that they are an amazing group of people, and I am proud of them. I am always impressed by their excitement in serving God and how good they are to each other, especially in light of the unhealthy aspects of my own youth group in High School. I them to have no fear in sharing the Truth and inviting others to church, because there is no place better for their friends to be welcomed, known, and loved. I added, "That is why I am coming back here, to be with all of you."

. . .and then they applauded?

I was surprised. Taken very off-guard. I hadn't even paused for a reaction, or effect, or anything. It is still confusing to think of. But it was humbling, and wonderful. It was a spontaneous display of love, and nothing could have proven my words about them better. It took a moment to steel myself for finishing the lesson.

It has been a while since I have felt loved. Especially like this. But to have my presence applauded, to be celebrated? It seems ridiculous.

But I suppose love usually does.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Posted Song Number Five

Here is a cover of a Derek Webb tune, which I remember playing one morning in Little Rock (but I try not to think about that).

Please tell me your thoughts on this song. Specifically, I have questions about one issue. I have never, ever in my life liked my voice. I can follow notes, but I don't like the way I sound. My best friend tells me that it is a good voice, as do some others, but I have trouble believing complements. So this is not fishing for them, as I wouldn't believe you anyway. But please share your opinion. Even if it is that my voice is jarring, but appreciable in a Neil Young sort of way.

I don't know if I will be posting songs over break. Will people still be reading this? Let me know that, too, please.

Thank you for your help. I am grateful, in truth. Thank you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


A common question I receive at school is that of where I live in the United States and what it is like there. This is sort of a difficult question, as I have had three homes in the past few years (Louisville, Harding, and Grand Junction). It is slightly more difficult, even, when you take into account that no one here knows the first thing about U.S. geography (and be honest: could you find Santiago de Compostela on a map?).

So sometimes I draw them a monstrous outline of the States, or a teacher will procure a map beforehand. And each time as I go over the map I find myself feeling, I don't know, a longing? a tenderness? a bit of, dare I say it, nationalism?

I never expected this, but I miss the United States.

As I explain the mountains and river in Colorado, the green hills of Kentucky, the. . .Arkansas, I feel closer to my country than perhaps I did while I was there. It is odd.

And so when my plane lands in a few months, I am going to do some exploring. Not any huge trip, but I want to see New York. A bit of New England. Then I want to take a friend along with me down some country roads in Kentucky.

Yes, this sounds right to me.

And two quick meta-notes: (1) I am not posting a song today because the wireless is down at my school and I am using an ancient computer. So maybe next week. (2) Sal, thank you for your comment. I just read it, and would like to keep hearing from you.

That is all for now.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I am exhausted, so here are pictures (unedited, although needing it) and few words. This weekend was a long one due to Constitution Day, so Kristin, Claire, and I went by train up to the northwest. We were directly north of Portugal, which is kind of neat. If you're into that sort of thing, I mean.

We saw churches, and loads of them. We walked on the roof (legally) of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which supposedly houses the remains of the apostle James son of Zebedee and was begun in 1075 AD. The Mass there was a little ridiculous, with four-fifths of the worshippers whipping out digital cameras to take pictures of the famous censer swinging around, spreading a sweet smell in the church. Here is the front:
And here is a pretty church:
And here I stand triumphant in a pretty stretch of woods as we followed a path of old water mills, aided by a sweet local:

And here is some pretty coastline in front of the Tower of Hercules:
I have nothing more to say, for now.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Posted Song Number Four and Pictures, some in Mp3

Here is an instrumental song I have had kicking around in my head for a while. The title ("Recently Untitled," I think) is not an attempt to be cute. It used to have a title, but now it doesn't.

I was going to put a cover song on here, but it was a busy week and my voice is tired. Tell me if this track sounds like garbage, please. How do these tracks sound when you listen to them? Do they sound like they are recorded on a headset-microphone into a laptop in my bedroom while sitting on my creaky bed? Because that is what they are. I am trying to create some illusion of production value, though.

Also, can no one see the pictures from my last post on Thanksgiving? The shot of the meal is nothing short of triumphant. I noticed that they aren't on Facebook's import of my post, so I will try to put them up again, right here. First, the meal:
And now the slightly out-of-focus my-face (which is out of focus for your protection):
And also an apple pie baked from scratch:
I'm traveling to the far north of Spain this weekend, and am looking forward to it. Until next time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving In Spain

Before I forget the good and little details, I should tell you about my Thanksgiving weekend. It would be hard to have had a better one.

I met Sha'lon in Toledo to find that, due to complications, I would not be able to see my friends Greg and Marie. We went on to Torrijos where Kristin would not be joining us. It looked like the weekend was starting on the wrong foot but the truth quickly took shape.

Loran, Claire, Sha'lon, and I walked to the supermarket and piled a huge amount of food in the hand-cart. Bringing it back to the apartment, we set to cooking a feast. It took a while to cook and coordinate the different dishes, but we ended up with a very satisfying meal, as you can see:

After we ate we walked with Loran to the train station. It began to snow ever so slightly on our heads and in my beard, but it was a joyful thing.

Saturday we went to Madrid so the girls could shop and get Starbucks. I got a Chai Tea Latte there and felt warm, probably to the amazement of the many people asking if I was cold as they pointed down to my sandals. We walked much and talked a good amount, all in English. I wore brown and the girls said I looked like a tree. We watched street performers and saw the opulence that is "Cortylandia," one store's presentation of all things Christmas. It was a good day.

Sunday Claire and I went to her local charismatic-esque church, which was lovely. The people were welcoming, even asking my name from the microphone. During prayer most members murmered along audibly with their own supplications. They drew out the "s" sounds in all words ("ssssanto ssssssanto ssssssanto") creating an odd and sibilant sensation, as if small things were flying past me at high speed. With closed eyes I imagined their impassioned words as those small things, and it reminded me of a dream I had when I was young of standing in a fire and looking straight up to watch all the sparks fly toward heaven.

At home, my bed met me and I went back over all the things that Hannah, Shelby, and others sent me in a package. Here is a blurry picture of me wearing the scarf that they sent that I needed. I made the full image smaller to spare you the sight of a six-foot my-face.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Psalm 101

I had a few things to write about and there are many things on my mind, but I came across this passage last night and was really quite taken by it.

I have been reading through the Bible since a little while after I got here in Spain, and was continuing this last night at the kitchen table/dinette set thing. Going through the Psalms alternates between an enriching and an infuriating experience, as they are so different that inevitably you cannot relate to many of them at a time. I cringe as the writer asks God to destroy his enemies in warfare, or I roll my eyes as David says "I have led a blameless life," and last night I was getting sick of reading so many calls to "sing a new song" and to "sing for joy to the Lord." God has given me a rich and good life, but right now. . .things could be better. I will not shout aloud to the Rock of my salvation. I barely have a whisper within me.

But then the 101st Psalm.

It is full of promises from beginning to end: "I will sing of your love and justice;/ to you, O lord, I will sing praise./ I will be careful to lead a blameless life. . ." to "No one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.// Every morning I will put to silence/ all the wicked in the land." But why does the writer make all these declarations of faith and vows of service? Near the start of this fervent yet frenetic fanaticism, he asks the Lord,

"when will you come to me?"

My prayers of late have taken on a pleading and bargaining tone. "How clearly your glory would be shown if you would just [whatever], God!" "What better time to prove yourself to a heart so beaten down?" "I have been mistreated and now left by a girl claiming love. Are you, too, now absent? Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

I have no more answers to my questions than I did yesterday. But this poem spoke in words that my heart was struggling to form, and it seemed worth sharing. And perhaps I am reading my Bible more, praying, fasting, making promises, with the goal that God will be far no longer, just as the Psalmist hoped.

I just wish it were that easy.