Thank You Vampire Weekend

Last week my husband Iñigo and I were scouting out books in English at one of the local international bookshops, and I couldn't help but notice there were quite a few Indian authors on display. Having just read (and thoroughly enjoyed) Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, my curiousity was piqued by this seemingly sudden international interest in what Indians have to say. And with all these great books in the shops and Slumdog Millionaire being all the rage in the movie theaters, it seems like we're on the brink of an Indian invasion much like the Latin invasion we experienced in the US when Shakira, Ricky Martin and the like first shook their bonbons into the hearts of America right before I moved to Spain.

Perhaps it was this line of thought that led me to believe that the Vampire Weekend album I discovered on my mp3 player the other day and have been grooving to all week at work, just had to come from an Indian band. Now before you jump down my throat and tell me they are from NYC and what I heard were more African influences than Indian ones, know that Wikipedia has already beat you to it so you can keep your musical snobbiness to yourselves.

The fact of the matter is I got an Indian vibe from the album and mentioned both how much I like the album and my theory about the Indian invasion to our guiri friends Martha and Philip the other day when they invited us over for a lovely meal of clam chowder. This sparked an unlikely conversation about ethnic heritage and who can claim to be Indian, whether you have to be born and raised in India or is it enough to have Indian parents or grandparents. Examples were made of Indian imposters such as author Vikram Seth and Cornershop, who had the nerve to capitalize on their Indianness despite being born and raised on British soil. My politically correctness was questioned and I was accused of not knowing the difference between an Indian and a Bangledeshi surname (guilty as charged), but we all laughed a lot and a great time was had by all.

Throw in a bit of boredom at work the next day and you can see how easy it was for this discussion to transition into a slew of emails on the subject the next day. Philip downloaded the Vampire Weekend album and defended its African vibes. I relentlessly googled Vampire Weekend + India and sent any and all obscure references to Philip as proof that I'm not completely bonkers (singer Ezra is apparently quite into the British colonial period in India so there). Despite my efforts, Philip firmly maintained that "musically there's no India for me (triplet based polyrhythms or not - and there are eight African references to one Indian in the rolling stone review....not that I counted)".

Then we brought things back around to the previous night's discussion about whether or not a person can claim a certain heritage if they've only lived a foreign culture and customs from afar, which led me to think of myself and my future children. Will my children be American even though they will most likely be born and raised in Spain? Will my efforts to speak to them in English, foster relationships between them and my US family and friends and share all sorts of American pop culture classics with them be enough to make them secure in their American heritage? Or will they be called imposters every time they do anything which could remotely be defined as American? And in today's globalized world does it really matter anyway? Will Martha and Philip ever invite us over for such a lovely dinner again after exposing them so vividly in my blog? Of course I am open to all your comments.

In the meantime a special thanks to Vampire Weekend for motivating me to blog again.


On Turning Thirty

I thought I’d have more to say about turning the big 30 but, at least so far, I haven’t had any epiphanies or strong rushes of emotions to mark this great event. I am thankful to be inaugurating a new decade in my life today, but I have to admit I feel much the same as I did yesterday when I was still 29. And yet, in a subtle way, I suppose this particular birthday does mark a change in my life. I am no longer a girl in my twenties; I am now officially a thirty year old woman. Of course, it’s hard to take this new label seriously in a country where thirty and even forty year olds regularly live with their parents under the guise that “housing is just to expensive” (which by the way, translates to “If I can’t buy a very large flat with all the amenities, I’d rather stay at home where my mom does all the cooking and cleaning and no one asks my sorry ass for a dime”), but let’s pick this thing apart anyway, for argument’s sake.

Since I have no way of knowing what awaits me in my thirties, the best way of going about this is to recap some of the highlights of my twenties. I graduated from college at 21, moved to Madrid at 22, finished my masters at 24, got Spanish working papers and started to function as a legal resident alien at 26, held several crazy jobs from 25 to 28, started my current crazy job at 28, where I met my husband and married him at 29. Phew. All those milestones may fit rather succinctly into one albeit ridiculously long sentence, but when I think about how much my life has changed from my 20th birthday celebration in the KC coffee house until now, it’s impossible to ignore the changes that have come with every passing year. It just happens so slowly that we don’t always realize what’s taking place until birthdays come and force us to pause for long enough to notice and evaluate these life events.

So while I technically still feel like the same person I was when I was twenty, I’m pretty sure that if I met myself at twenty right now, thirty year old me would probably beg to differ. I don’t mean that I’ve lost myself along the way or anything like that; I just mean that I have evolved as a person, which is pretty much the way things should be. Of course not everything has changed, which is comforting. While I now eat all sorts of things I never would’ve even looked at in college, I still love a good tube of raw cookie dough. Thankfully, in spite of the ocean that separates us, I’m still close with many of the friends I had in my early twenties, and I feel confident we will be close until way into our hundreds.

I’m still me, just a more evolved, mature and experienced version. I’m pretty sure twenty year old me would think I was way cool and want to be me at thirty, so I can’t complain. What more could a girl, I mean woman, ask for?


Why Do You Do It, Zapatero?

One of the top stories on any Spanish news website today is that Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is doing his darndest to take part in the big G-20 financial summit on November 15th. The fact that Zapatero really wants Spain to be involved in this meeting and the “big boys” just won’t let him has been in the news for days (Spanish news not international because no one really cares), though I must admit I haven’t paid much attention to the whole thing until now. A few minutes ago I sucked it up and read an article in El País entitled something like The (Spanish) Government Seeks the Help of Obama and McCain so He Can Go to the Financial Summit. According to the article, taking part in this summit has become a “priority” for the Spanish government, and has apparently become far more important than taking care of any of the many problems he has here at home.

Why, Zapatero, why do you have to make such a big deal out of this? Spain is not the only first world country that was not invited to the summit. It’s not the only EU country that wasn’t invited either, and I don’t hear anyone else making such a stink over the whole thing. You are making lots of trouble for my embassy, bothering two presidential candidates on the brink of an election, neglecting your other duties and the worst part is this whole scheme may not even work. How much is that going to suck? Don't you remember from your school days that when you're not invited somewhere you would like to go, you should just pretend like you didn't want to go anyway?

According to another newspaper article on the subject, the White House apparently already told you that “If Spain would like to present its ideas through any of the individual leaders attending the summit or through its representatives in the European Commission, of course they are welcome to do so”. Why don’t you dedicate all that time and energy to coming up with some constructive solutions for the world’s financial problems?


It Ain't Easy Being Green

Man, Kermit sure knew what he was talking about: it really ain't easy being green. I try to do my best to protect our delicate environment, but I have to admit that I like my creature comforts and they often interfere with my good intentions. I do believe we human beings exploit and abuse our planet, and I condemn these things, but still I fear my carbon footprint is probably much more comparable to Bigfoot’s than that of the dainty little woman I am. Or is it?

While I was pondering this the other day, I began to realize with pride that living in Spain has made me much greener. I may not be more environmentally conscious, but just living here has forced me to adopt new habits I never would have even considered in the States. Check out this list of my top five former environmentally irresponsible actions, which have been partially, if not wholly, eradicated in Madrid:

  1. Action: I love a nice, hot bath. Solution: The bathroom in my flat is too small for a bathtub; hence I am forced to limit water and energy consumption to showers.
  2. Action: I hate being cold, and I love to sit around my house in t-shirts even in the dead of winter. Solution: Heat is expensive here so I have to keep the thermostat at a more reasonable temperature and wear a sweater. Also it would be unthinkable to leave the heat on if you’re not at home during the day or while you’re sleeping at night bundled up under the duvet. I have tried to justify my heat addiction to Iñigo, but I finally decided to just suck it up and put on a sweater. I should also add that, due to a lack of space, it doesn’t take all that much energy to heat a 55m2 flat.
  3. Action: Driving a car. Solution: This was an easy one for me to give up, since I embraced the no-car culture with open arms from day one in Madrid. I do take the metro to work even though I could walk, but I almost never touch public transportation on the weekend. We live right in the middle of things so walking everywhere is easy.
  4. Action: I’ve always been a lazy recycler. Solution: This is still a tricky one for me because we actually have to take the recycling down the street to the recycling bins, which are almost always overflowing because the city doesn’t pick up the recycling nearly enough. But since I have to pass by the recycling bins on the way to work anyway, it’s no biggie. For the moment I can actually take credit for making this sacrifice on my own, but a new law will be enacted in the near future to fine those who don’t recycle, so once again I will have no choice in the matter.
  5. Action: I love fresh milk. Solution: Fresh milk is more expensive here, and it doesn’t last as long, so it’s milk in a box for me! In addition to being able to stock pile dozens of boxes of milk, thereby avoiding unnecessary trips to the grocery store, my American friends recently had an email discussion about the ecological benefits of good ol’ UHT milk, and I was pleased to find that it saves energy too.

So while I still think Whole Foods is a rip off and I wouldn’t dream of giving up meat, I’m unwittingly greener than most of my American friends who actually try to save our planet in peril. Take that global warming!!!


A Prank Gone Wrong

Some of you may not know this, but this guiri has participated in her share of pranks. Despite my current polished, sophisticated demeanor, I was once part of a team of master pranksters in my college days. My friends and I took great measures to make each prank bigger and more spectacular than the last, and I do believe there is a giant lizard painted on a rock somewhere near Emory, Virginia which bears testimony to said fact. We stacked all of the tables in the dining hall on top of one another and covered the entire room with cling wrap, had secret sleepover parties in the campus library and even launched fistfuls of an entire Butterball turkey’s worth of cold cuts at an unsuspecting talent show audience. To achieve these and many other entertaining feats my friends and I were required to bend a few rules and break a few laws, but in the sleepy town of Bristol, Tennessee no one seemed to mind much.

One of our most popular pranks was “rolling” the neighboring houses, which consisted of stealing dozens of rolls of toilet paper from our dormitory bathrooms and creating breathtaking works of toilet paper art on and around Bristol homes. From an ecological standpoint, this was a tragic waste of trees, but I hope my readers will forgive my youthful squandering of our natural resources in the name of good, old fashioned fun. And even if you are of the opinion that this sort of frivolity should not go unpunished, surely you don’t believe pranksters should be punished by death, right?

I was appalled to learn this morning that a Solon Township, Michigan man does, in fact, believe that the perpetrators of such pranks actually deserve to be shot at indiscriminately. According to an article on the Fox News website, four fourteen year old boys were decorating a house with toilet paper on Sunday night when the house’s owner decided that was as good an excuse as any to open fire on the same kid THREE times “from a 12-gauge shotgun, striking the 14-year-old in the chest, stomach and leg”. Thankfully, the kid is currently recovering in the hospital and I hope with all my heart he has a full recovery. In case you’re wondering, the homeowner is sitting pretty at home while prosecutors try to find grounds to press charges against him. I would like to think his guilty conscience will be punishment enough, but I have to admit I have my doubts.

The fact that people distrust one another so much that one of the oldest pranks in the book can now get a kid shot is a very sad commentary on the waning sense of community worldwide. But what I find even more tragic is the fact that many irresponsible acts based on this mistrust remain largely unpunished in the US, which only encourages people to act impulsively on their mistrust by shooting first and calling the police once tragedy has already struck. And so we shake our heads and cluck our tongues when we hear of these tragedies, but what are we actually doing to prevent them?


Euribor Woes

Over the last few months I have developed an unhealthy obsession with the Euribor. For those of you who live in blissful ignorance of this term, Euribor stands for the Euro Interbank Offered Rate. Basically this is the interest rate banks in the Eurozone use to lend each other money. More importantly for me, the Euribor is also the reference rate used by almost all Spanish banks (including my own beloved Caja Duero) for calculating how much us mortgage holders have to pay each month in order to keep our homes. The interest rate for my particular home loan is set at Euribor + 0.25 and is revised once a year based on whatever the Euribor happens to be at the time of my revision. When my husband and I purchased our sweet little flat in March of last year, the Euribor was at 4.44 % and, thanks to the recent global financial crisis, the rate has skyrocketed to its current 5.512 %.

Against such a promising backdrop, I’m sure you can imagine how easy it was for me to slip into consulting this oracle of financial wisdom on a daily basis in order to determine, and therefore try to prepare for, the fate which awaits us on Revision Day in March. But yesterday a ray of hope (or so it seemed) somehow broke through this dismal forecast, and I promise you that I almost cried for joy when I heard that the European Central Bank had finally agreed to throw us a bone and lower interest rates by half a point. News reports all across the country promised that this decision would also produce a reduction to the Euribor, thereby saving millions of homes from foreclosure and families from subsisting primarily on rice and lentils. You could almost smell relief in the air.

So can somebody please explain to me why the Euribor not only showed no signs of drastic reduction but, in a sick twisted plot against all that is right and good, the banks actually decided to kick things up a notch and raise the Euribor? I’m no financial expert, but I have been reading articles written by "top economists" for months, all of which swore by the formula: ECB lowers interest rates = Euribor goes way down. Some of these “experts” even went so far as to say that even insinuation by the president of the ECB that interest rates may be lowered would be enough to shave some tenths of a point off the thing. Well guys, at least in the short term, I guess you were wrong.

So that’s it, I surrender. For my own sanity, I hereby renounce the unholy oracle that is euribor.com. I will no longer set myself up for suffering at its cruel hands. As a concession to necessity, I will keep reading the headlines, but I will not even try to figure out why the global economy seems to be slipping and a sliding into a pool of disaster. He dicho.


Pixing: The New Female (uri)Nation

Move over boys, there’s a new sheriffess in town and she is about to wet her pants. Like a fierce little puppy dog, she’s out to mark her territory, and she won’t stop until she’s spread the sweet perfume of her female urine all over the city. She will do her business on your street corner with pride and you men had better not get in her way. Confused? Allow me to explain:

A feminist group in Barcelona has started a new campaign called Pixing, which basically consists of putting little red dots all over Barcelona and asking women to pee there. This is both a feministic protest (why should women be ashamed to pee in the street when men do it with such pride?) and an attempt to convince the city to provide more public bathrooms. My favorite quote from the Pixing blog:

Pixing is a complaint against the most subtle forms of machismo, which cause women to feel ashamed of themselves for acts that men carry out with pride. It is a call to think about gender equality on a daily basis, in the smallest actions of our daily lives. It is a cry for free action, safe from the oppression of the patriarchal framework which smothers women’s identity.

Who knew that relieving your bladder on a street corner which has been carefully marked with a red dot could do all that? So come on ladies (Gentlemen, you’re welcome too. See we’re not like you, we don’t discriminate), check out the photos of Pixing’s publicity campaign and find yourself a red dot to pee on.

Note: My husband, Iñigo, tipped me off to this site. Thankfully, both our parents taught us to use a potty for our basic needs, but it's nice to know there are alternatives:)