My Spanish has been improving faster than I expected. That's not to imply that I'm able so say very much, but reading is getting easier. After I bought some comic books, I was able to understand almost everything without looking up much at all. Of course, the pictures helped quite a bit.
Also, I've been studying more than I though I would. This is mostly due to there not being much else to do around here. Alicante isn't a bad place, but most of what goes on around here is geared towards the beach. For now, though, it's still too cold to sit around outside [usually around 10 degrees]. Most days I try to memorize between fifty and seventy-five words, in addition to doing some exercises from a grammar work-book that I bought.
One of the hardest things about understanding what I hear is how the Spanish pronounce certain sounds. For instance, if a c comes before either an e or an i, it makes an s sound, like in English. But the Spanish just lay their tongue on their bottom lip and blow, making the same sound as a five year old with a bad lisp. I always hear it as a 'th', and by the time I think long enough to make the difference, I've missed a couple of the words that followed.
It seems that the mullet is still considered trendy in this country. Most of the men have one, as well as many of the women. When I was getting my hair cut last week the barber tried twice to give me one, before it finally sunk in that 'short in the back' means a lot less than two inches that he wanted to leave me with. To be honest, I haven't been very impressed with the style of many of the people here, especially the men. I've seen way too many neon orange and yellow track suits, often topped off with a raging [ie more than three inches long] mullet.
And then there's my host family. Said family consists of an old lady, [Mrs. De Los Rios], a small white dog, and a parrot. The parrot is usually riding around on Mrs. De Los Rios' shoulder, since if it's left alone, it breaks out into a fit of whistles and 'hola's. The dog is usually reasonably normal, except when someone comes in the door. When someone does, it hops up on it's hind legs and does some sort of weird dance, back and forth, while shaking it's front paws. And no, I'm not exaggerating. I'm not sure if it taught itself how to do this or not.
Mrs. De Los Rios doesn't speak any English or French, so communication has been a bit of a problem, especially for the first couple of weeks. Still, she manages to get her point across when she wants to. For instance, part of the deal was that she would prepare lunch for me, but that I would take care of my own supper. What I didn't realize is that I wouldn't be allowed to use the kitchen to do so. Apparently she's afraid that I'll set fire to something. It's been a long time since I've been treated like I'm retarded.
Still, at least the house is comfortable. Although the situation is far from ideal, I'm reluctant to change houses. Some of the other students have it even worse than I do. One, from Sweden, ended up with two Moroccans as roommates. That's not a problem in and of itself. But they either have a very warped sense of humor, or are most likely quite dangerous. You see, sometime during the second week that they lived with him, they started to ask his opinions about Al Qaeda. They've since been telling him that the organization is misunderstood, and gets a bad rap from the media. After which they start to rant about the failings of western society. He's still not sure if they're trying to make a joke [and failing miserably at it], or are being serious.
Last night was the Spanish equivalent to Halloween. Unlike the North American version, however, it's much less commercial. Most people make their own costumes, and do so with a tremendous amount of effort and care. Sometime around midnight, everyone gathers by the port to wander around and see what other people thought up. The most impressive part of the whole thing was the size of the crowd. There must have been 15,000 people all crammed into a three block stretch, and almost everyone was wearing an extravagant, and usually very colorful, costume. Also, unlike Halloween, very few costumes are designed to be gloomy or gothie. My personal favorites were those dressed as Gypsies, as well as the colorful 'cat' costumes [more the style from the musical than actually trying to look like the animal]. After seeing this, North American Halloweens will never be as interesting again. I can't imagine what it would have been like in a bigger city, like Madrid or Barcelona.
I've posted a few pictures of when I was in Bosnia. If you'd like to check them out, go to http://www.couchsurfing.com/image_gallery.html?id=400346&folder=6309
The news has been somewhat slow these last few weeks. At least the rioting over the cartoons of Muhammad seems to have died down. It's one of the only issues that's put me in line with [western] conservatives. It seems that 'small c' conservatives were the only ones willing to stand up for free speech. I was following several billboard conversations over the Internet, and most of the politically correct would condemn any newspaper that would print them as just provoking a minority. The irony of all this is that most [almost all?] of these people had never even seen the cartoons. They seemed to think that they were horribly disrespectful, some even thinking they depicted Muhammad sodomizing a goat. Had the pictures been printed in at least some papers, people could have known what they were arguing over.
Aside from that, there doesn't seem to be much going on. Iraq is ever closer to civil war. Dick Cheney shot someone in the face. All business as usual.