Sunday, February 26


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


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.

Sunday, February 12

Sunny Hours

Istanbul was one of the most memorable places that I've been to.

As I mentioned before, it's absolutely huge. Plus, there's a huge contrast between neighborhoods. Some are extremely rich, others dirt poor. There are areas that are very religious, and others that are much more modern. It's an odd contrast to see many women wearing hijabs, or in some cases covering their entire faces, passing bars wherein there are Turkish girls that are dressed, well, to the other extreme.

While I was there, I met three people through Couchsurfing [a website that I've been using as I travel]. The situation with the first, Esin, didn't turn out very well. In fact, it was the first bad experience that I've had with the site. I suppose something was bound to go wrong sooner or later.

At first everything was fine, and we seemed to be getting along well enough. But on the third day, she got a call from a Turkish man that I had met when I was in Sofia. She had given me permission to call him from her phone earlier, but he hadn't been home. He called back later when I was out, but must have had me confused with someone else. He was certain that I had been to Istanbul several times and that we had met at a party in Istanbul several months earlier. Despite him not having asked for me by name, but instead by my email address, and my having proved to her that I had never been to Turkey before by showing her the stamps in my passport, she became convinced that I was lying to her. The whole situation struck me as very odd, but she told me that she wasn't comfortable having me stay with her any longer, and asked me to leave immediately. It was 10 pm, and putting it mildly, Istanbul isn't a very safe city to be walking around at night looking like a tourist [i.e. wearing my packs].

Luckily, I had just had dinner with another girl whom I'd met from the same site, Aysun. When I called her she was more than happy to have me stay with her, even on such short notice. Her sister Aylin even offered to show me around town the next day, as Aysun had to work.

Aylin and I spent the day taking in as much of the city as we could. She mentioned that she was considering doing a PhD in film, and is looking into several universities in Canada. I'd heard that Concordia has a strong theatre program, and she said that she'd check it out. Perhaps the next time I see her will be in Montreal.

From Istanbul I went to Athens. Just as with Turkey, I didn't have time to take in any more than the one city. I'd been told not to expect much from Athens, and that most of the historical monuments were destroyed. I found that to be a bit harsh. The city had an energy, as if things were on the mend. Granted, it has a major traffic problem for a city it's size. There are around 3 million people living there, but compared to others cities of the same size, the air absolutely reeked. They've had absolutely horrible city planning for the last hundred years. But recently they've built up the metro, as well as improving the bus system. Apparently hosting the Olympics a few years ago helped to pick up people's spirits.

From Athens, I flew to Alicante, in Spain. I'd signed up for Spanish Classes here, which will last for three months. Perhaps the best part of being here is the weather. I'd forgotten what it's like to be warm when I'm outside.

I've been here for a week so far. I'd forgotten how tedious learning a language is in the beginning. I've spent most of my time memorizing words, and although I've already learned about 400, it's really not much to speak of at all. I can barely form any coherent sentences. Still, I feel as though I'm progressing faster than when I started learning French. I'm hoping that things will start to fall into place in a month or so.


It seems like the world just gets more and more depressing. Especially where the Middle East is concerned.

Arab governments are allowing [or in some cases encouraging] massive, violent demonstrations against a cartoon. Think about it. Despite all of the important problems facing Muslims now-a-days, a huge number seem to be hung up on a couple of drawings that appeared in a newspaper in Denmark. Most of the people demonstrating against their publication probably couldn't even find Denmark on a map. But they would say that's beside the point. Apparently their religion has been humiliated by this. Fine. By all means, feel free to voice your complaints. Perhaps publish some lewd cartoons about the Danes in their local papers. But sacking Danish embassies? And asking for the cartoonists to be executed? Doesn't this amount to the laws of Islam being applied to people who are in no way connected to it [not to mention proving that the cartoons were right on the mark]? How in the hell do you justify that?

Perhaps the most disturbing part of all of this is how little western governments have stood up to this bullying, and defended free speech. Particularly America, where free speech is supposed to have originated. And after having looked at these drawings, I have to say that they were pretty tame. Certainly compared to what the Arab press routinely publishes about Israel and America.

Also, I felt a little dumb when I couldn't remember the name of one of the favorites to win the forthcoming leadership convention of the Liberal Party [of Canada]. It's Michael Ignatieff. As I recall, he's been teaching at Harvard pretty much his entire life, meaning that he hasn't even lived in Canada since he graduated from high school. Yet for some reason he decided to come back to Canada to be a politician. Quite a few people are very impressed with him, and see him as the fresh face the Liberal Party needs to get it back on track. I think this is a crock of shit. The man was vocally in favor of both the Ballistic Missile Defense System and the war in Iraq, putting him either on the same grounds as Stephen Harper, or even farther to the right. I have no idea why he choose to run as a Liberal candidate. I realize that what I'm basing this on isn't enough to get a full view of his opinions, particularly domestically. Unfortunately, he hasn't really said enough to give people a clearer picture. That doesn't stop the thought of him as Prime Minister giving me the willies.

Also, it seems that Harper didn't waste any time stepping knee deep into a big pile of doodoo. So far he's only appointed his cabinet, and already he's lost most of his moral credibility. I understand that he wanted to have some cabinet ministers from the big cities [from which the Conservatives were shut out]. But accepting David Emerson as a Conservative and a cabinet minister a week after he was elected as a Liberal [and who represents a riding that has only voted Conservative once, in the 1950's] left him wide open to calls of hypocrisy by the media, and rightfully so. Plus he gave a cabinet post to Michael Fortier, a man who didn't even run in the election. Harper got around this little hitch by appointing him as a senator, although I believe that Fortier promised to resign from the senate if Harper should lose any coming elections. This means that Fortier won't even be on the parliamentary floor to answer questions about the decisions he makes.