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4 posts categorized "Jenna Lanzaro"

The Iberian Peninsula: My Top Five

    I can’t leave out my homie Portugal, especially after this stellar weekend, so I’ve elected to write about the five best places I’ve visited on the Iberian Peninsula (rather than just Spain) on this trip.

  1. Mallorca

    If we’re working in chronological order, and if I so happen to be writing from the midst of Castilla y Leon’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it plunge from summer into winter, then it makes sense for Mallorca, in all its green and blue sun-swathed glory, to come first.

    Mallorca is one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, floating merrily between Ibiza and Menorca in the sea to the south of Barcelona. I arrived in Mallorca, like so many of these cities, in the dark, and so I passed a bizarre but not unenjoyable evening in one of Mallorca’s heavily German neighborhoods celebrating Oktoberfest and wondering where exactly that Air Europa flight had plopped me.

    The next day, though, we rented a car to explore the interior of the island. Limitless green mountains, lush wineries, clear beaches in mountain-fringed bays: we twisted all the way up to the opposite coast of the island, tasted wine and lolled in the shallow waters, and then wandered back to pass Palma, Mallorca’s capital city, at sunset.

    Sunday, I rented a bike and rode ten miles along the coast to Palma. Tourists and locals sprawled on the rocks along the way, relishing the strong autumn sun. How do I convey Palma? It was cloud-high palm trees, shaded streets, Es Baluard, a surrealist art museum with wicker lounges on the roof for gazing out at the Gothic Cathedral, and narrow little restaurants with fresh cheese from the mountains and pork that had been simmering since the dawn of time. It was also the first beach city I’ve ever been to in which it didn’t feel as though much of its essence had been sacrificed in the name of tourism. I’m coming to appreciate that more and more, as I rove around.

            Have I been blabbering? Yes. Salivating? Yeah, that, too.

  1. Salamanca

    Technically, I came to know and love Salamanca before Mallorca. But I can’t be held accountable for errors made ten minutes pre or post Netflix binge (sometimes a girl just needs an hour of English every now and again!), and so I hope you’ll forgive me.

    Salamanca, my home base: its churches and towers are crafted of Villamayor sandstone, a tawny-colored stone that’s positively resplendent at sunset. Salamanca’s skyline is medieval, but wedged within its streets are restaurants and bars lively with conversation and congeniality. Because it’s home to one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities, Salamanca is so much more than just a small, pretty city. I love that it’s my jumping off point for travel – I get to snatch up a beer at Plaza Mayor here, a sunset in the garden there – even though I want so much more!

  1. La Alberca

     This is the one that most of you won’t recognize on sight. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a decent majority of Spaniards aren’t familiar with La Alberca, either.

    Twenty minutes west of my pueblo, you can fit this medieval town in your palm. And let me spell out medieval for you: homes fortified with wooden beams, centuries-old cobblestone streets, and a church constructed with pre-Roman materials.

    Outside of its modest plaza, where one can sit and drink a lazy glass of wine, or poke into dark shops where artists hand-paint tiles and sculpt leather boots, the streets of La Alberca are nearly silent. I remembering thinking, roaming them alone one weekday afternoon – how many inhabited places have I ever known to be so quiet?

    It’s a place where you feel as though the past is easy to touch.

  1. San Sebastian

     Have you ever wanted to learn to surf in a moon-shaped bay, guarded by green, cloud-cloaked hills? Have you ever wanted to meander in and out of bars nibbling at pintxos - wedges of bread heaped with cheese or sumptuous sausage, dishes of fresh, ripe-to-bursting mussels and shrimp – and drinking a glass of beer here, a glass of wine or cider there? Perhaps you’ve always wanted a real scare on the eve of Halloween. Might riding an ancient funicular up a mountain to a half-abandoned amusement park deep in fog fit the bill? Perhaps riding its roller coaster around the peak of said mountain, screaming into the night?

    San Sebastian has a vibe. It has a young, art-centric, communal, surfer vibe.

    Alright, should I just say “hipster” and get it over with?

    San Sebastian is extra special because it was one of three places on my must-see-in-Spain list prior to embarking on this journey. I find that oftentimes, it’s the things for which we set high prior expectations that disappoint. Hence the short list.

    And madre mia, San Sebastian most certainly did not.

  1. Porto, Portugal

    Without further ado…the reason I entitled this list “Iberian Peninsula” instead of “Spain!” The reason I have the most life-altering sweater in my closet right now which I may or may not have just worn for four days straight! The reason I stayed up until well past midnight last night dog-earring a book on azulejo tiles!


    Lonely Planet describes Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, as “humble-yet-opulent,” and I can’t help but feel as though this descriptor is beyond perfect. Ensconced in azulejos, hand-painted tiles of the richest and most intricate design, and strewn with street art and crepe banners, Porto manages, miraculously, not to feel as though it’s packaged for neat, aesthetic consumption. It feels humble, homey, worn-in a little. The best bars and restaurants are holes in the wall with chandeliers made from old trumpets, hand-written menus. Portuguese (which sounds nothing like Spanish – don’t listen to the lies!) is the predominant language here, and it’s refreshing (albeit frustrating, at times) to hear, “No, no hablo ingles. Y no hablo espanol.” In today’s day and age, that’s pure magic! Wizardry, perhaps!

    And so, there you have it, folks. My top five, entirely unbiased by the presence of high-quality travel pals, my predisposition towards the arts, or a deep zest for local food. Like, if you put these five places into a blender and tossed in some garlic and oil, you totally wouldn’t make a Jenna smoothie.

    But that’s besides the point. It’s time for me to go – this chicas got a few more trips to book!

How teaching English in a class of infantils resembles a zombie apocalypse.

The setting: An animal rug in the corner of an early childhood classroom.

Characters: Precious, occasionally booger-smeared 3 to 5 year-olds.

The context: Teaching a half hour of English per week to a gaggle of children who’ve barely mastered Spanish.

            “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” is chiming out of my phone, and I’m dancing and singing with eight or nine enthusiastic three-year-olds. They touch their heads, their shoulders, etc, and then blink up at me waiting for acknowledgment. We’ve mastered the high-five as the token of a job well-done, and so periodically they’ll wave their hands at me and shout the words louder and louder until I give them one.

            We’ve been singing this song for three weeks now. They know the words and the motions. And so today, I thought, I’ll draw a picture of a girl, and we’ll label some of the parts of her body. I think they might be ready to see what the sounds look like on paper.

            I start with the head. I hold up the picture, and point to the head.

            “Cabeza!” they scream.

            “Si, pero en ingles?”

            “Si!” one of them cries.

            “High-fi!” pleads another.

            One of them starts to chant, “Channa,” their variation of my name, and the rest join in. Then they thrust their hands out for high-fives, rather pleased with themselves.

            I begin to sing the song. I touch my head, and the head in the picture. “Head!” I tell them.

            “Heh! Eh! Deh!”

            They make sounds vaguely corresponding to the sounds in the word, and I write out “head” on the page. They’re squirming closer now, closing around the bench on which I’m sitting, craning to see.

            I point to my shoulder, their shoulders, the shoulder in the picture. I begin to sing the song. “Heaaaaaaad…”


            “Channa channa!”


            That third one is the closest I’ve heard, and so I dole out a high-five, and suddenly they’re all clamoring for one.

            “Dah! So-dah! Soooooooooo!”

            The littlest boy throws himself over my knee. They’re behind me, patting my back, reaching up for my hair, striving for the word: “So-dah! Soo-dah!” They can grab onto the sounds for a second or two, and then in the whole mass of them the sounds dissolve into noises and gruntings, and the instant I give one of them a high-five, their hand is thrust back out for another. And of course, if I don’t dole out my high-fives equitably, the tears spring forth. And when one starts to cry, the others look around them frantically, as if to say, “What am I missing?” and then decide they might as well erupt into tears, too.

            I suddenly realize, and then can’t help but laugh aloud, that this is what it might feel like to be caught in a zombie apocalypse: bodies lurching closer and closer, making unintelligible sounds, crying, howling, reaching out to grab you and drag you into another world.

            When I start to laugh, they do, too, and then we’ve dissolved into this pile of giggles. I place the picture aside, and we sing and dance together one more time.

            I realize then that I’m here to make them feel good about the English language, to introduce them to its sounds and rhythms. It’s alright if they don’t know much more than “Hello” and “Bye-bye” and “Channa” when I leave in December. Early immersion is just that: tossing someone into a language, so that by the time they’re developmentally ready to recognize the words as separate entities, to form sentences, they’ve adjusted to the temperature. They’ve been bobbing around in the pool for a while.

            I’m happy when I leave school to a zombie-choir of “Bye-bye! Bye-bye Channa!”

What I Know and What I Don't: My First Week in Spain

Today, on the anniversary of one week with my host family, there are things of which I’m unequivocally certain, things of which I’m semi-certain, and things that I don’t know at all.

I’m certain:

  • That today is a national holiday celebrating Spain’s military police, El Pilar. As of last night, this had belonged in the “Semi-Certain” category, because one person had told me October 12th was a holiday celebrating a Catholic Virgin, and another had told me we were celebrating Christopher Columbus, and all of this was in Spanish, of course, so I probably misinterpreted even more than I should have. I did hear the word “Columbus,” though. And “Virgin.” I swear.
  • That my students’ hearts and minds are more open to me than I’d ever think to deserve. Yesterday, my first Tuesday at school, I began the day with twenty minutes with the infantils – the pre-school, essentially. As you can imagine, they speak and understand virtually no English. I thought, let me introduce myself (I made a little cartoon Jenna, with “Favorite Foods” and “Important People” and all that jazz scribbled over my body) and then we’ll play “Simon Says” in English. I’ll be able to pantomime the motions, and they can follow along. At least this will give them initial exposure to the language, to the most basic verbs. Now, pause for a moment to put yourself in the shoes (or smocks – they wear adorable, monogrammed smocks) of Spanish-speaking four-year-olds into whose classroom a stranger prances, babbling in a foreign language and throwing her hands up into the air and sticking out her tongue. Personally, I’d be dubious, at the least. I might keep my tongue in my own mouth, thank you very much. But these kids, like all of the others I’ve worked with over the past week, leap delightedly into the unknown. They absolutely gobble up our mangled, half-coherent interactions, the waving of the arms in front of the room, the “No lo se”’s and scrambling through dictionaries, my urges to try, try (I know it’s hard!) to articulate yourself in English, to mess up or to ask a friend, to tell me that your favorite foot is espaghetti, because Spanish is like this for me! And then we spend the afternoon outside in the park, racing and playing soccer and climbing trees, and we don’t need any common language at all.

I’m semi-certain:

  • I ended up in Portugal or near Portugal last night? (Yay, new country!) The two little girls in my host family are learning charro (charo?), a type of traditional song and dance typical to the region of Castilla y Leon, so specific, in fact, that I’m having trouble finding any information about it in English on the Internet. My host mom mentioned that their teacher was hosting a concert at the Roman Baths in a neighboring pueblo (no, not el bano like the one with the shower, no!), and asked if I wanted to go, and I did, of course, so at 8 her and I and the littlest girl piled into the car, picked up Abuela, and drove off into the broad, starless country night. Then we got lost. Hopelessly, I think. And getting lost in Castilla y Leon means travelling kilometers and kilometers down long, rumbling little roads past castles and cows making shadows against the sky before alighting upon a sign post and realizing you’ve just travelled a half hour in the wrong direction. I couldn’t help, obviously, so I sat in the back and watched, helpless. The concert was at 10, and it was 9:45 now, and my little girl and I began to get nauseous, and so we poked at each other half-deliriously, meowing, making animal noises. She said, “Hola Caracola” and I said, “Hola Concha,” and we’d go on like that for a while, and we’d giggle and then shut our eyes and press our heads back against the seat because suddenly we were nauseous again. She was the shell to my snail – we were in this together. At 10:15, we arrived and cheered about it, and darted into the hall, and watched the loveliest performance, with shrill flutes and drums and wide green and red dresses and headpieces decorated like city streets with mirrors and beads. I beat my hand in time with el pies, wheeling around at the ankles like butterflies, and the arms held up at right angles, fingers snapping softly and guiding the bodies around in circles and other shapes. At the end, we were invited up to dance, and I motioned towards my sleepy happy Concha and we danced and whirled together up front, albeit with a drop less grace than the dancers themselves, though she was picked up by one of the gentlemen and whirled around like a queen and I watched and clapped along. My host mom told her teacher, the leader of the group, that I was from New York, and when we lined up together for a picture, one of the dancers burst out, “New Yorrrrk, New Yorrrrrrrk!” Frank Sinatra-style, and we all laughed.

I have no idea:

  • What my address is. I know we’re house number 23. That’s got to count for something, right? I also feel awkward, this far in, asking my host parents, “Um…where do we live?”
  • What time anything is, ever. I haven’t mastered my prepositions yet, “at” and “on” or “during,” and so when my host mom tells me that music is at ocho, I don’t know if we’re leaving at eight, getting ready at eight, expected at music at eight, and so I’m constantly getting ready early and then loitering about like a kitten waiting to be adopted at an animal shelter. A happy, hopeful kitten, but the kind who gets her head stuck in peanut butter jars.
  • WHY I CAN’T STOP EATING JAMON IBERICO. At least sixteen times per day, I fantasize about the leg of jamon in the garage. When my host dad steps out to slice off jamon for meal times, I begin instantaneously salivating. I feel incredibly carnivorous.

And so, there you have it – the first week! Cheers to scooching more things into the

“Certain” and “Semi-Certain” categories, but embracing the undoubtedly countless new things that’ll plop into the “I have no idea” category in coming weeks. That’s what it’s all about, right?

New Jersey to Spain: The Scenic Route

    For the first time in 43 days, I'm cradling a bundle of clean, warm, soft-as-a-cloudless-sky laundry in my arms, and I'm in love.

    Before you make assumptions about my personal hygiene, know that I have washed my clothes over the past six weeks. In an apartment on Crete, I set my alarm an hour earlier than my companions, crept into the bathroom with a very suspect plastic bag of clothes I'd "retired," folded up a towel on which to kneel, and got to work hand scrubbing it all on the floor of the shower. My attempts to keep dry throughout this process were very much as futile as the numerous preliminary attempts to kill the Minotaur at the Palace of Knossos a couple of miles (kilometers?) away, and so I disrobed and prayed Julianne wouldn't happen to wake up just a few minutes before her alarm and stumble in to an extra special wake-up call. Anyway, most of the clothes didn't dry in time, despite the fact that I so thoughtfully strew them across every available flat space in the apartment, and so I popped them back into what would become a rotating armada of plastic baggies from local shops and grocery stores, and jammed them into a corner of my suitcase, and zipped it all up for the second leg of my journey after Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete: Singapore, Bali, and Kuala Lumpur.

    In Bali, one of our lodgings offered a laundry service. Out came the bag, which I could now locate in my suitcase via odor alone. I submitted it with a small morsel of shame to the laundry service, but discovered that my "clean" clothes, the "un-retired" ones, either by virtue of being cooped up in a suitcase for close to three weeks now, or by proximity to the Bag of Doom, were not as fragrant as I might've liked them to be. I don't think the necessary morning lathering of sunscreen and Deet was too helpful, either. Oh well, I thought, gazing out upon waves of Bali blue ocean, cares sliding off like water over a turtle's shell - I'll be done with these shorts and dresses and bathing suits soon enough, when I fly into London in a week. [And here I must offer up both a thanks and an apology to my mother, the eventual recipient of the rancid suitcase. I swear, if I'd been able to get to a laundromat in time, I would've washed it all!]

    And westward I went, anticipating a swappage of suitcases which would grant me - gasp - clean jeans! Thick socks that didn't scatter volcanic ash on the floor when I yanked them off! Shirts that weren't as wrinkled as a Shar Pei, that I could wear without drenching in Downy wrinkle spray and smoothing with my hands for a minimum of five minutes! Honestly, though, I did relish the weather in the U.K. (am I the first person to have ever said that?), the coolness and the wind after a month of drenching heat. Obviously, though, even cool-weather clothes get dirty. This meant I spent another evening kneeling by another bathtub, scrubbing at the essentials, and cursing myself for dunking in a pair of pants whose pockets I'd forgotten to empty. Indonesian rupiah floated to the surface of the soapy water like curious dolphins. Bus and train tickets disintegrated to a mess of white pulp which diffused through the water and decorated the now dubiously clean clothes with white, got-to-remove-bit-by-bit (you know what I'm talking about) speckles.

    What a far cry from Cork, Ireland, where I sit now awash with the fragrance of freshly laundered clothes splayed about me like flower petals. I don't know if foresight or sheer luck landed me an Air BnB with both a washer and a dryer - that's the rare unicorn of amenities, not one to be expected. What I do know is:

1) My laundry adventure tells, I think, an abbreviated form of the roundabout way in which I'm coming to Spain. I knew, when I learned of my start date, that I'd be foolhardy not to find some sort of way to travel beforehand. And so, I began the most glorious adventure first in Greece, with my fabulous co-workers, and then in Southeast Asia, with two childhood friends, and then in England and Scotland, with family and family friends, and now in Ireland, left up to my own devices! Let me tell you, there's been a lot of reading, eating of figs and cheese, and, obviously, clothes-washing going on here in Cork. It's getting pretty wild.

2) It's a vital reminder of my blessings, and privilege. Despite the fact that I've just rambled on for roughly 800 characters about my laundry, I know it's not a big deal. And frankly, for people blessed enough to be able to travel, we need to recognize that basic amenities, like dependable laundry, both aren't a big deal (I never suffered any personal trauma for a lack of clean socks), and are (we assume that everyone's got access, but many don't.)

    This brings me to the bigger picture, the bottom line. One of my biggest goals for this process is to become a better person, in the hopes that I can collect more good from the world and put more good into it. I've already begun roaming, eating, learning, and meeting the most enlightening new people, and I'm eager to land in Spain in two days and keep the journey flowing.

    And who knows whether or not my hand-washing days are over? I'm willing to bet there's another bathtub in Spain with my name on it.    

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