The Language Exchange


Yesterday or more precisely, last night, I attended another one of those English and Spanish language exchanges. Here in Madrid they are called; ‘Intercambios’.

Last night was OK, I seem to be settling into the routine and environment of the particular Intercambio I attend. I have made a few friends actually, but the reason I initially began attending Intercambios wasn’t really to make friends.

The idea behind these language exchanges are that people who wish to learn English or Spanish can meet at these organised events, and then together they can work to improve their language skills.

In Madrid Intercambios are popular. For me it has been a huge shock discovering just how popular. Many people here are eager to perfect their English – which they will tell you is bad, and yet it isn’t! They speak very good English, which again shocked me, as you rarely hear them doing so, even if you ask them.

People here actually learn English via work or from school, well, the younger generations learn in school. Courses and classes here can be expensive, so people flood to these Intercambios hoping to practice and speak English for free. So, I held out hope to also be able to chat away in my ‘Spanglish’, or gain the much needed confidence to actually speak Spanish as well as I do when no-one is listening to me!!

Having spent a significant time dedicated to attempting to learn Spanish, and also time slacking off from this task; I came to think, in my infinite wisdom, that Intercambio (language exchange) evenings would be the way to achieve language perfection.

Oh dear, how misled were my judgements on such things.

The main issue for me is that Intercambios are 99.9% of the time run from a bar/club, where loud music can hinder understanding, and also people tend to enjoy drinking alcohol, more than perhaps actually learning anything. I for one am guilty of this!

OK, alcohol plays a huge part in lowering inhibitions and boosting confidence, but also after a couple of drinks retaining any new information, in relation to learning, well, it isn’t so conducive.

Have I learnt anything so far from attending them?? Well a couple of words, but not substantial conversation or fantastical language confidence!

In fact even finding an Intercambio set up I was comfortable with at first, was trial and error.

My first experience with Intercambios was actually as I expected it would be, surprisingly. Bar, alcohol,
men and women = well, a hunting ground for sex. Not really my idea of learning a language!

This first Intercambio, 3 friends and myself  attended together. As soon as us women entered the bar (which was full of men), immediately I detected their eyes fix upon us, and I just knew why! Their necks were all strained like Meerkats on the lookout!! They weren’t interested in run of the mill conversation, let me just say that!

Anyway, intimidating, yes, very; we were not there to meet men for sex.

So, my judgement of Intercambios had been tainted; I felt it was really a euphemism for a ‘pick up’ opportunity, rather than a legitimate language exchange or learning experience.

Anyway, not being one to give up, I decided to persevere and give the Intercambios another shot.

The second Intercambio I attended, although the setting remained within a bar, I didn’t get a ‘pick up’ joint vibe. So, it seemed as though this one might just provide me an opportunity to learn, and practice Spanish.

This was the theory, but it has never quite transpired to practice.

Reason being is when a friend and I checked into this particular Intercambio, we looked at the attendee register, and immediately noticed everyone there was Spanish. 98% of them wanted to learn English!!!! Us two, being the only fluent English speakers present – damn!

Seems as though we would be the free English tutors for the evening – and that thought unnerved me.

As soon as the people present heard our accents, all eyes were trained upon us! They turned eagerly, desperate to get the opportunity to talk to us about anything, so long as they could speak to us in English. It was once again an intimidating situation, but for very different reasons than the first Intercambio disaster. We were again centre of attention without even wanting to be! I then thought, thank God I have never been famous, I’d never have coped with all that attention!

I was a little freaked out to say the least; put on the spot and I almost felt like a cabaret act – like I should do a little dance or something! I felt myself squirm inwardly as we were paraded about the bar, and then introduced to about 10 strangers. We were expected then to get on with our tuition of these Spanish strangers! It was weird!

Consequently I could only speak in English for the first hour, and then only a little Spanish thereafter. I was on edge all night – I felt so nervous of all the attention and questioning. Though, they were nice people, it was still a full on experience and not one I am usually used to; speaking on demand like a pet! I wasn’t a happy bunny!

This way of learning is not for me, I cannot learn like this. I need to feel comfortable to speak to a person in a foreign language – I don’t know why. I struggle, I feel my mind goes blank. Plus, how often do we trade information, that is perhaps personal, with complete strangers? Not often. It is quite an unnatural setting.

A Spanish friend of mine actually described the Intercambios as a form of speed dating, and they could be. It is like repeating yourself, and making good impressions, being on your best behaviour, and hiding your true self to score points! I have never been part of a speed dating event, but I imagine people must feel the same – on show, on the spot and feel they are being assessed and judged even!

It is a weird environment for sure, and one I just feel I am not comfortable in, yet every week I still attend, like a glutton for punishment! As I have already stated though I have met some nice people, so this is a good thing, yet, I am not really fulfilling my main aim – to learn Spanish!

Yet, at least I am making friends. So, there is still hope to eventually be fluent in Spanish, one day!

Two Pairs Of Eyes


Walking around often I will catch the eye of a stranger. It is completely normal, an everyday occurrence. The eyes are our first real sense of ourselves, others and our environment or situation. Yet, it always makes me think, ponder these everyday slight, but not quite interactions; perhaps they could even be precious ‘on the brink’ connections.

Sometimes eye contact, and then a smile can spark a conversation from nowhere. You get to have a few moments of connection, and gain a smidgen of trust from people you may never ordinarily converse with.

Travelling back to Madrid this happened to me. I begun talking to one lady in the airport waiting lounge, and another lady 10 minutes before boarding the plane. It is strange, but often this eye contact, that leads to a friendly discourse can be the most enlightening or nicest interaction of your whole day.

WHY??

What is it about our eyes, that can draw another in and spark a connection of friendship or even love??

Just two pairs of eyes can meet across a room, a street or a wide open space.

What does the silent glance mean to each person, who, in one moment have become caught up in each other’s gazes?

Does it signify the owners of those eyes are sharing the same emotion, at the same moment, with the aid of some unseen force guiding them to one another for whatever reason?

Does it even involve emotion, or is this something more deep seated and innate? A strange unspoken connection perhaps or is it merely an empty, and cold stare meant for lust or as a passing ‘who is that’ glance.

Why do we emphasise and connect to the eyes; to make friends, to be friendly, for desire, to covet? Is it more than merely some ancient mechanism of evolution and survival?

What is it about the eyes that tells us so much, and yet doesn’t even speak a word?

In one glance sometimes there is a host of wonder to behold, and yet unless you look up, you will never see what is there to be seen within a strangers eyes.

Just My Opinion!


Picture from: operationgeorge.com

Picture from: operationgeorge.com

During many recent conversations one salient point keeps arising; OPINIONS.

I have written about opinions before: Me, Myself And I Concur however, I thought I’d revive the subject once more for old times sake!! Opinions are so interesting 🙂

Opinions, everyone has them and who is to say one is more correct or relevant than the other?

Opinions are based on many things; experience, culture, ideas, education, knowledge, beliefs and so and so on. They are as individual as we are.

Opinions should be stated and accepted. However, no person has the authority or right to be able to dismiss one person’s opinion as not worthy or, as something that requires ‘re-education’ or ‘re-adjustment’.

Feel free to state your opinion, but move on; as not everyone will see things from your perspective, yet, that is life 🙂

I mean, who is anyone to think they have all the answers to ‘enlighten’ anyone else, right???

We are after all only mere mortals with many flaws, and things to learn. Surely no-one is so superior to believe they have all those answers??

There are debates about opinions, and there are aggressive rants and arguments; one method achieves something and the other one doesn’t. What is the point in arguing over opinions??  

If I state my opinion I don’t expect to have to go to war with someone over it. I’m sure everyone in the blogging world of WordPress is ‘grown’ enough to realise we all think differently 🙂

I love opinions, especially my own! However, life would be so dull if we all had the same opinions on every topic of conversation!!

I for one VALUE OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I welcome hearing and reading them, for me, that is what makes writing so special!

Just LIKE YOU, I know what I believe, have learnt, experienced and discovered. I know what I think, feel and hold dear. I won’t change those profound pieces that make me, me; so, don’t ask me to, as I wouldn’t ask you to do that either.

Please, ACCEPT ME AS I ACCEPT YOU.

Feel free to state your opinions, don’t EVER stop!!!! Yet, allow others to state theirs too without making them feel bad about the fact they don’t see the world as you do.

And that folks is JUST MY OPINION!

Picture from: abccopywriting.com

Can cause trouble, BUT, I love them, so KEEP them coming folks!!!!!!
Picture from: abccopywriting.com

OPINIONS PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What are YOUR opinions about opinions????

How do YOU FEEL about providing your opinion???

What does YOUR OPINION say about you????

Have YOU faced criticism for your opinions???

Do YOU enjoy hearing other people’s opinions????

OR, do YOU THINK other people’s opinions are terrible things???? 

Madrid’s 3 Kings Parade – Cabalgata De Reyes


Last night I got to witness the celebrations, and parade of the 3 Kings or Cabalgata De Reyes here in Madrid.

By the teeming crowds and absolute bedlam, I think all of Madrid and then some showed up too! I think last years parades pulled in over 500,000; but standing there amongst so many people it certainly felt as though much more were present this year!

It was lovely being able to inhabit the roads leading down to Plaza de Cibeles without the usual multitudes of cars. The people of the city reclaimed the streets for themselves and the celebrations. The sun setting over the Metropolis building was lovely, with the soft glow of the Christmas lights hanging from the trees.

I couldn’t believe the crowds as we got ever nearer though; a sea of people were waiting patiently and without trouble for the night to begin and the arrival of the 3 kings.

The night began with choirs singing out carols in Spanish and English, then came the colourful and lively parade with beautifully decorated floats. It is customary for sweets to be thrown into the crowd, and this year was no exception. Apparently, during the parade 7000 kilos of sweets are thrown into the eagerly awaiting crowds. Many onlookers came prepared with bags and umbrellas to catch the tasty delights.

Here are some photos of evening, along with a couple of the firework display that ended the evening with a bang.

The view to Plaza de Cibeles as dusk falls.

The view to Plaza de Cibeles as dusk falls.

One of the choirs singing beautifully to the masses.

One of the choirs singing beautifully to the masses.

Just a small glimpse of the massive crowd surrounding the area - which covered many, many of the streets.

Just a small glimpse of the massive crowd surrounding the area – which covered many, many of the streets.

The first of many parade floats.

The first of many parade floats.

Awwww, a Ballerina.

Awwww, a Ballerina.

DSCF7666

Alice In Wonderland - I saw but couldn't photograph the wonderful Mad Hatter walking alongside the float. He was Johnny Depp's replica from the movie!

Alice In Wonderland – I saw but couldn’t photograph the wonderful Mad Hatter walking alongside the float. He was Johnny Depp’s replica from the movie!

Angel and the North Star - beautiful acrobatics from a girl attached to, and suspended from a floating balloon of massive porportion! I felt sorry for her in the freezing weather!

Angel and the North Star – beautiful acrobatics from a girl attached to, and suspended from a floating balloon of massive proportion! I felt sorry for her in the freezing weather!

One of the 3 Kings

One of the 3 Kings

Another crowd shot after the parade ended.

Another crowd shot after the parade ended.

The beginning of the fireworks.

The beginning of the fireworks.

DSCF7723

Gumbo: The Taste Of New Orleans in Madrid


Could a taste of New Orleans be hiding away in a corner of Madrid?

By sheer accident I found a restaurant on Calle Pez called ‘Gumbo’, which claimed to serve New Orleans cuisine or more precisely, Cajun and Creole inspired dishes.

Calle Pez

I was immediately delighted and intrigued!

A) I haven’t found anything like this here in Madrid,

B) After visiting New Orleans and Memphis I have adopted a taste for such food,

C) If I ever owned a restaurant I vowed it would be New Orleans inspired, which would of course include the cuisine of that area.

So, all things considered I naturally jumped at the opportunity to sample what ‘Gumbo’ had to offer!

Firstly we frequented a few bars on Calle Pez, and passing Gumbo on the way we noticed it was quiet, albeit it was 8:30 – 9:00.

9:30, we headed over to Gumbo and although it was very busy by this time, we were seated immediately, which shocked me. I expected to wait another half hour at least.

The restaurant itself, décor and setting, is not overly inspiring, but it is clean and the staff were friendly and welcoming.

I had already perused the menu online, and part of the reason I was so excited to visit the restaurant was the lure of Fried Green Tomatoes, Gumbo and the Lemon Meringue Pie.

The Menu comprised of (all prices in Euros):

Starters –

SEAFOOD GUMBO, typical New Orleans (8.75)

FRIED EGGPLANT (AUBERGINE), bathed in a Swiss and Parmesan Mornay (8.50)

FRESH SPINACH SALAD, shallots, blue cheese, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette (8.50)

STUFFED MUSSELS, with garlic and breadcrumbs (8.00)

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, topped with warm shrimp remoulade (8.50)

HOME MADE COUNTRY PATE, accompanied by caramelised onions (8.75)

GOATS CHEESE TOAST, with oyster mushrooms in a port sauce (8.50)

Mains –

BARBECUED SHRIMP, with garlic and spices (15,50)

SHRIMP AND GROUPER CREOLE, sauteed with tomatoes and seasonings (15.50)

SOFT SHELL CRAB, with meuniere sauce and dirty rice, (16.00)

FRIED FREE RANGE POUSSIN, marinated in crystal hot sauce (15.00)

STUFFED PORK CHOP, with caramelized onions and bordelaise sauce (16.00)

BRONZED SIRLOIN STEAK, with garlic mashed potatoes (18.00)

ARTICHOKE AND SPINACH CREPES, with bits of toasted nuts (11:50)

Deserts –

LEMON MERENGUE PIE  (6.00)

BANANAS FOSTER (6.00)

PEANUT BUTTER PIE (6.00)

PECAN PIE (6.00)

RASPBERRY BROWNIE (6.50)

The starters all sounded really tasty, albeit not all 100% authentic New Orleans, but nevertheless all worthy of sampling. The only problem for me was that I wanted the Fried Green Tomatoes, and the Gumbo; yet I had to make a choice! Annoyingly the Gumbo wasn’t available as a Main!!!!

I settled for the tomatoes and my vegetarian amigo ordered the Goats Cheese Toast. I cannot fault the tomatoes. They were superb; I thoroughly enjoyed them and would recommend them to anyone. The coating of the tomatoes although fried remained crisp; seemed to be a good bread-crumb come Polenta coating. The sauce was tangy and similar to a Tartar sauce rather than the Horseradish variety we had in Memphis, yet equally as tasty! The Goats Cheese offering though, was nothing special. In fact combined with the bread the mixture had become a little rubbery, and not pleasant to eat.

Swiftly onto the Mains. I ordered the Creole Shrimp and my amigo ordered the veggie option crepes. I have to say, it was enjoyable, but again for the price I didn’t think it was quite worth it. The shrimp was a decent enough dish, but not spiced or seasoned enough, it lacked that quintessential New Orleans va va voom! The crepes were again, edible, but ordinary! They were hardly an awe inspiring vegetarian choice.

Yet, to be fair this restaurant visit wasn’t strictly chosen because it held vegetarian delights; the reason for going there was to measure up their version of New Orleans against the real deal. So with that criterion in mind for what I alone had ordered, the scores on the doors stood at;

Starter:  10/10

Main: 5/10

So, everything hinged upon the anticipated desert; Lemon Meringue Pie.

*Sigh* Desert let me down! My Lemon Meringue Pie was certainly NOT home-made; it reminded me of the frozen variety that can be purchased cheaply enough from any supermarket. It was lack lustre! The saving grace was the Pecan Pie my friend ordered; it was scrumptious and definitely home-made! The pastry base was just firm enough, breaking neatly under the pressure of the fork; the sweet, sticky syrupy, nut mixture topping was delightful!!! Thank God for Pecan’s!

Scores now stood at –

Starter: 10/10

Main: 5/10

Desert (Meringue): 4/10
Desert (Pecan): 7/10

Anyway, all in all the bill came to roughly 75 Euros.

With all things considered I would say it was a tad expensive for a half measure New Orleans experience. The food could have been better; more authentic, more spice and season added, more vegetarian options, and that frozen pie desert not worthy of gracing a restaurants table (especially when this dining experience is being sold as something different).

The question is would I go again, and the answer is yes I probably would! The reason being is that I loved those Fried Green Tomatoes enough to ignore the other let downs, and go there to try something different on the menu! What a sucker I am!

Gumbo Restaurant, Calle Pez, 15

Tues-Sat: 14:00-16:00 hrs. / 21:00-24:00 hrs.
Sun: 14:00 a 16:00 hrs.
closed Sunday night and all of Monday

Check out Gumbo’s website for further details:
http://www.gumbo.es

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Copy Right Notice:
© Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I Am King or Queen of My Castle and I Refuse to Surrender.


A friend of mine has recently suspended her Facebook account; she has plenty on her plate at the moment, which has of course occurs as part and parcel of her fully developed and healthy adult life. However, one of the reasons she mentioned was how she was fed up with receiving persistent emails, and messages from people she had only known as a teenager.

Now, I have had similar issues with Facebook; as good as it is to locate family and those you value as friends, it allows others to try to invade your space. Some of the people who might try to re-establish contact could be past friends, some could even have be your worst nightmare; the enemy that despised you, and the bully that ridiculed you making your life a misery.

Can you trust these people to re-enter your adult life based on what you knew about them in the past? What are their motives to trying to gain re-entry into your life?

I wonder if everyone is familiar with these types of people; the ones who harp on about the past, those who desperately desire to re-new a friendship that was only founded on a specific place and moment, also those who wish to try and re-establish their sense of greatness (‘look what I have been doing, aren’t you all jealous’), and of course the bullies from the playground?

All these people you may have purposefully lost contact with (years ago), suddenly feel they have a right to wander back into your life, and act as though nothing transpired to make them, a friend from the past or just someone you had to suffer. Maybe you consigned them to the past for a damn good reason!

It seems people are just so eager to parachute back into our lives; to pry, because they are guilty for their past actions, maybe because they have nothing else to focus on or perhaps they want to re-exert their dominance? Have they so little in their own lives that they have to cling to what was? Maybe they haven’t made a new life for themselves? Maybe they are fixating on what was, and are stuck in the same mind set and situations they were when you knew them? Maybe they want to feel a part of something more once again?

If they haven’t moved on and experienced life, if they haven’t changed their ‘spots’, is it because they are too afraid to? How could they have managed to escape immersing themselves in life, maturing and developing into an adult? What I mean is, are they stuck, frozen in one moment forever; unable to escape that child or teenager perspective on the world?

I call this ‘I’m the King/Queen of my castle’ syndrome, it is not uncommon. To explain; people like to feel important and it doesn’t matter whether they are billionaires, popular people in their neighbourhoods or the school favourite. If they have been or are deemed to be ‘top dog’ somewhere, sometime, by someone; this alters their view of themselves. When this self belief (view of themselves) is challenged by those who they bullied or those they classed as friends, because now those people they knew have more or have achieved more than them; these ‘Kings and Queens’ self beliefs are then set at odds. Suddenly their world is no longer rosy.

People don’t like to think they haven’t achieved much by others standards, or that their enemies or playground victims have surpassed them. Yet, who is really judging them, and making them feel inferior; the child grown into an adult that they bullied, their old friend or themselves?

Maybe in the real world, in another setting which is remote from their own, these ‘Kings and Queens’ begin to feel inconsequential? Perhaps they cannot cope with having to re-build their status or gain something new and different, so they have retreated from immersing themselves in new experiences. Maybe something which is outside of their comfort zone is deemed a scary place to be? Is it that they have built a wall of protection around themselves to always feel secure in their choices? If that is their choice, and they are happy, surely it is fine with the world; as long as they then leave everyone else and their choices alone? However, in my experience that doesn’t happen.

If these ‘Kings and Queens’ do feel afraid of the new, of change and development, and they have made their choices to retreat to their castles freely; why then do they feel as though they have lost out, and become jealous of what they perceive to be a better life than theirs? Why is it people cannot just be happy and move on? What to they hope to gain from renewing a long dead connection or forgotten friendship?

I admit that I feel sceptical when presented with these ‘Kings and Queens’. As I have mentioned already I have experienced this, and not just on Facebook either. I have seen some pretty vicious and poisonous things occur through jealousy; from the friend of the past aimed at the person they feel has managed to move on and develop a healthy adult life, from those who were the bully, and also from those trying to re-exert their greatness. It is a frightening thought, as you can never truly know what ‘can of worms’ you will open buying into what is portrayed on the internet; especially with cases of internet bullying on the rise (not just children get bullied), not to forget those who have been stalked or even murdered. Seems dramatic, maybe not, not for those who have suffered as a result of what seemed to be an innocuous internet ‘friendship’.

I will now ask the questions again; can you trust these ‘Kings and Queens’ to re-enter your adult life based on what you knew about them in the past? What are their motives to trying to gain re-entry into your life?

Are they harmless individuals stuck in the past or an enemy, a danger lurking in wait?

Links about Adult and Child Cyber Bullying:

http://www.overcomebullying.org/cyberbullying.html
http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/adult-bullies/

BBC One Panorama – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01c00y3
BBC Schools – http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/parents/cyber_bullying/
Childline – http://www.childline.org.uk/Explore/Bullying/Pages/CyberBullying.aspx

Copy Right Notice:
© Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.