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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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Tales from the Basque Country

A Weekend in Bilbao

Thinking of spending a few nights in Bilbao? Here’s a quick run down of some essentials for your trip.

Practical Stuff

>Bilbao is very green, which means it rains a lot. Bring waterproof shoes and a waterproof coat. The city is very informal, and you can wear hiking boots, trainers, or sneakers on a night out without anyone batting an eyelid.

>If you like to walk, you will adore Bilbao. Things are reasonably close together, and there are lots of nice buildings, bridges and bars/coffee shops. If you’re too tired (or it’s started to drizzle) the metro is cheap and well designed.

>The airport is just 20 mins from the city centre. (There is nothing I hate more than a long arduous journey to catch a plane)

>People here are the friendliest in the world and will always try to help you, whether they speak English or not.

Guggenheim Museum

If you don’t fancy paying 13e to see the exhibition, the building itself is well worth a look. Designed by Frank Gehry, and inspired by the sea, the building is controversial due to the way it contrasts with the surrounding architecture. Personally, I 100% love it, although I never experienced the city without it.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Casco Viejo

The old part of the city is nicknamed “The Seven Streets”, but don’t be fooled. It’s basically a labyrinth, but there are so many excellent bars, you desire to leave won’t be a problem.

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Pintxos

Have you ever eaten tapas, and thought, I wish this food was on a small piece of bread, with a stick in it, and with a complete rainbow variety of tastes and textures? Then you are going to have some sort of food orgasm over “pintxos”, which is Basque for “cocktail sticks”.

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San Mamés Stadium

If you’re a football fan, you might like to take a look at Athletic’s stadium.

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Walk along the River

Prosperity, and the subsequent rejuvenation of Bilbao (from an industrial port town) since the 90s has been nicknamed “the Gugghenheim Effect” by the press. If (and that’s a big “if”) it’s not raining, you can take a wonderful stroll by the river.

paseoMaritimoRVictoria

Not Climbing Artxanda

Basques know how to organise stuff well, and as you walk around the Bilbao, you will see that although there are a some steep hills, there are also easy ways to get around climbing them.

A “funicular” is a small train that goes up a hill. A great thing to do (on a clear day) is catch this tiny train from the centre, up Artxanda, which offers a great view for the whole city. They you can walk back down, or take the train back.

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Day out to San Sebastián

San Sebastián is just an hour by bus from Bilbao, and although it is said to be a bit more expensive, it is also famous for it’s culinary offerings. If you like to pack in as much as possible on your weekends away, this nearby city on the coast might be a nice change from the big smoke.

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Bilbao: Casco Viejo Top Picks

Here’s a selection of images from my favourite bars in the Casco Viejo.

Mellila y Fez (Calle Ituribide)

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Morocan kebabs. The best tortilla I’ve ever eaten in Spain. Music. Welcoming staff. This is my favourite bar EVER. And it’s very affordable.

 

Gatz (Calle Santa Maria or Andra Maria Kalea)

Award winning pintxos. Never fails to please and really affordably priced.

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Motrikes (Calle Somera)

There are a lot of bars in Bilbao that are famous for their grilled mushrooms, but Motrikes beats the competition. According to urban legend, the recipe is a closely kept secret, and is worth a vast amount of money. All I know is that I love me some mushrooms fresh from the griddle!

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It’s Almost Impossible to be Unhappy in Bilbao

I cried on the plane to Bilbao again today, knowing that I won’t be back in the UK for a while now. Home isn’t perfect, but it’s so…. normal. You know what to expect. You know roughly when stuff opens, and what time it closes. You count the money without thinking about it. Your brain doesn’t get exhausted by speaking a foreign language, trying to interpret signs that are make zero sense to you.

As soon as I got back to the flat, I lay down on the sofa and had a good old cry. My mum is 100% dead, incinerated, soon to be scattered. Her house is empty. I worked really hard over the summer, emptying the garage and cupboard after cupboard, giving things of no sentimental value to charity (which is where they came from), and my sister did the final clear out of Mum’s clothes this week. Don’t ask me where she got the mental energy. I just sat there, feeling waves of sadness hit me and trying not to get in her way.

I peeled myself off the sofa as there was no food in the house, and I put on my “walking in Spain face”, which tries to be neutral, yet with a hint of “I take no shit”. I’ve been working on softening it in the year since I left Madrid, but it’s still pretty sharp.

The lift in my building arrived. There was a young couple already in there. I got in. The lift didn’t move. “Your backpack” they said, smiling. Anther person got in. They all chatted.

I went to the supermarket, got my stuff, and then waited in the queue. Someone who worked there actually bothered to tell me I was in the 5 items or less queue, smiling, while his other coworkers consoled a crying child who had mislaid it’s mother, feeding her chocolate. When I was ready to pay, the cashier leant over conspiratorially, and told me that I was really missing out by not having the store card. She called over her manager to sign me up, and I dictated to him my details, while a lady behind me remarked “I learn English my whole life and look, she’s learning Spanish and she speaks so well. Where are you from?”.

Back in the lift of my apartment, I stopped to hold a door open for the person entering behind me. She started chatting to me about how cold it was (in Britain it’s 10 degrees colder right now,  but no one likes this to be pointed out). I smiled and nodded, agreeing about the “cold”, while thinking “You know nothing Jon Snow”. As I left the lift she called after me “Happy New Year!”.

I suppose that people are generally happier and friendlier during the holidays, but Bilbao is just such a happy and friendly place in general. It’s the complete polar opposite to Madrid. I wish wish WISH I had moved to the Basque Country earlier, but I always remind myself that if I hadn’t lived in Madrid for 3 horrible years then I wouldn’t have met my lovely partner.

I’m so glad I live here now. Basque people are so lovely and kind,  so polite, so positive, so gracious and welcoming to foreigners. I hope people treat them really well when they are in the UK.

Urban Legend: Santutxu is “the most populated”/Leyanda Urbana: Santutxu “es lo más poblado”

I keep on hearing this phrase:

“Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood in Europe”

and this article is going to be about my quest to improve my knowledge of stats and verifying internet info.

According to the Wikipedia article:

Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood of Bilbao and Europe, at 41,430 hab/km2.

A reference is given to a random PDF, of unknown origin, with lists of statistics purporting to be from 2006. However, in this PDF, there are several neighbourhoods that have a higher population density than Santutxu, such as:

Uribarri 42.981

Iturrialde 50.108
Solokoetxe 53.055

San Frantzisko/San Francisco 43.200

I love the freedom of information the internet affords, but I feel like it leaves me with more questions about knowledge than answers. How can one verify information on the internet? What is a reliable source? How can I learn to understand statistics and their manipulation without falling asleep?

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Escucho la siguiente frase de vez en cuando:

“Santutxu es el barrio más poblado de Europa”

y este artículo es sobre mi camino para mejorar mi conocimiento de estadística y averiguar información sur la red.

Según este artículo de Wikipedia:

Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood of Bilbao and Europe, at 41,430 hab/km2.

La referencia para esta información es un pdf cualquiera, de origin anónima, que dice que es estadística de 2006. Sin embargo, en este mismo PDF, hay bastantes estadísticas que dicen que hay barrios más poblados de Bilbao. Por ejemplo:

Uribarri 42.981

Iturrialde 50.108
Solokoetxe 53.055

San Frantzisko/San Francisco 43.200

Me encanta la libertad de información de internet, pero a veces me siento que me deja con más preguntas que respuestas. ¿Cómo puedo averiguar información de internet? ¿Qué es una fuente fiable? ¿Cómo puedo aprender a entender estatística y su manipulación sin quedarme dormida?

“Expat” or “Immigrant”? Race and Realisations on Privilege

I recently read an article that referred to the word “expat” as something:

In the Western lexicon of human migration there are still lot of remnants of a white supremacist ideology, with hierarchical classes of words created to differentiate White people from the rest of humanity, with the purpose of putting White people above everyone else.

I’d never thought about it before. What is the difference between an “immigrant” and an “expat”?

There were various answers in the comments below the above quoted article. One difference tends to be duration. An expat is planning on returning within a short time, an immigrant is planning on staying longer term. Another might be integration. An expat is more likely to be working in a language they speak very well (like English) and not have much opportunity/motivation to learn the local language, whereas an immigrant would most likely be working in the local language and have more chance of becoming proficient.

As someone who has been living abroad for several years, I came to understand the negative side of “expat”. As an “anglo”, people automatically assumed you know nothing about local customs, often resent your presence as you have “stolen” a local person’s job, expect you to speak their language perfectly immediately, constantly expect you to “integrate” (meaning laughing at their jokes about you). I took a million language classes, I changed my clothes (to blend in), and I breathed a sigh of relief, and something very simple finally clicked.

People of colour cannot change their clothes as I can. They cannot camouflage themselves. It might seem obvious to someone from a multicultural society, but for me, it took the experience of moving out of my “home” country to teach me about privilege.

I thought about all the times my non-white British friends had mentioned racism to me, or I had witnessed the aftermath of a racist incident. I had sometimes said (in my head) at the time: “It’s not that big a deal. Why are they so upset? People say shit to me all the time”.

Then I got it. I can lose weight. I can cut my hair. I can work at conforming. They can’t ever conform physically. And why should they? (Oh crumb nuggets. This was my privilege to only just realise this now. Wha?????!!!!)

I think the tone of the above quoted article is a good example of how a person writes when they are angry after years upon years of unpleasant personal experiences (see “Favourite quotes, below), let alone generation upon generation of colonialism. It’s a rare gift to be able to be keyed up about a subject, like race/colonialism/sexism, without attacking the readers who you may be trying to educate in to reconsidering their positions. It’s a skill I must confess that I have not yet acquired. I know this because many of the blog posts I write I am unable to publish as they too are full of ire. It can take many drafts before I convert my spleen into something that might be considered balanced, bordering on informative.

Favourite quotes from the original article:

Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants. Period.

If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there!

http://www.siliconafrica.com/dont-call-them-expats-they-are-immigrants-like-everyone-else/

Favourite quotes from NYT article cited in: “Don’t Call Them Expats”

A more current interpretation of the term “expat” has more to do with privilege. Expats are free to roam between countries and cultures, privileges not afforded to those considered immigrants or migrant workers.

But Hong Kong will extend all of its rights and protections to me once I’ve lived here for seven years–though I often get the feeling there isn’t much expectation of reciprocity, the way immigrants to the United States are expected to learn English and adopt a certain set of values.

http://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2014/12/29/in-hong-kong-just-who-is-an-expat-anyway/

 

UPDATE: A “cleaner” (less angry, attacking) version of the Silicon Africa article was featured in this Guardian article

Speaking Up, Educating, or Cowardly Silence?

My friend had a friend come to stay, so I went to meet them for an afternoon of fun.

This friend seemed nice enough, but a bit sort of frenetic energy, a bit gossipy, but basically alright.

In telling me the story of their adventures the previous night, this girl started to talk about realising that they were dancing next to a trans woman. She referred to the person as “transvestite”, “man”, and “he”. I asked some questions about her appearance as I thought I had seen a trans-woman but the person I saw had light brown hair and the trans-woman they saw last night was young, with very dark hair.

I didn’t correct the person speaking but I didn’t sneer with her, and she started to back pedal a little bit. “Transvestite and transexual. I never know the difference”. I explained, neutrally, using my limited knowledge.

The conversation flowed on. I wondered if I did the right thing (by not reacting and explaining what I knew) or if I was cowardly. My anger wasn’t triggered because I’m not part of the group being attacked, so I was able to calmly respond with factual explanations, not shaming the other person in order to “win”.
I wonder if the conversation served to help this woman change her point of view. I suppose it’s our life experiences that cause us to rethink our positions and resulting behaviour.

Library fines

I love books, but one of the sacrifices a nomad must make is not to buy these sweet smelling travel weights, or if you buy them, be prepared to pass them on to others (parting is sweet sorrow, indeed).

My library card is my most cherished possession. In the UK, in the US, in Spain, wherever I’m living, I’m a library geek, and I am not ashamed to say it.

I love the libraries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA. You can take out 99 books, you can renew online, and you can drop any book at any library within the system, and it is *returned*. You can even put it through a handy wee letter box doodad if the library is closed. How neat is that?

Spain on the other hand is a different story. I remember the first day I returned my library books a late to the library in Madrid. I tried to take out more books, and the (very impatient) woman explained to me that I couldn’t take out books for a month. It was my first month in Madrid, and I was living in a not-knowing-Spanish-nightmare, so I just couldn’t really get what she was saying, so she wrote down the date when I could next take out books, and shoved it in my face, before turning abruptly to serve another customer.

I was like “WhAt ThE fAk?” when I realised. “Que barbaridad!!!!! In Britain or the US, you just pay a little bit. But here they STOP you from taking out BOOKS? WHAAAAAAAT? Franco is actually DEAD, isn’t he? Christ on a fucking bike!”.

Maybe that was a slight overreaction on my part. Maybe it makes sense. If you want people to give back books on time, surely banning them from taking out more books for a specific amount of time makes more sense than fining them a small amount of money per item. But personally, I would much rather pay the fine (or “donation”, as I like to call it).

Deciding not to have children

I’m 27 years old, and it started recently. People keep on speaking as if I’m going to have children.

I adopt a cat. There’s a phone interview. It is impressed upon me that cats are not a danger to babies.

I go to the doctor with a cold. He suggests I change my pill to a “softer” one “just in case” I decide to have a baby.

I have a hangover. My housemate suggests that I might be pregnant.

My cousins had their children (one each) when they were over 35. “Just hurry up and do it” they tell me and my sisters. “There’s nothing that compares to it. And if you have one late (like us) then you will only be able to have one. Do it young and you’ll have more energy.”

All very sensible.

At the moment, I just don’t want to have children. Money, time, energy, and (most importantly) selfishness.
Here’s a list of specific reasons why I don’t want to have children:
>I want to be a writer, which means…
>I need/want to get a PhD
I would love to get a PhD and work as a professor at a university (in person or online)
>I want to travel
I’d love to live in a mobile home and travel the world, working online, proofreading, editing, teaching.
>I don’t live near my relatives
If something bad happens, like a death, divorce, or illness, I don’t have anyone to help me with childcare
>My partner hates children
>My mother told me (before she died) that “children aren’t everything”. She sacrificed everything for us. I’m not capable of that.
>I don’t want to be incontinent after childbirth
>I despise going to the gynaecologist
>Patriarchy
In our society, child rearing is pushed on to women. That’s why women are almost automatically awarded custody of children in divorces, and why women are passed over for promotions and high powered/paying jobs.

Integration

Integration is a word that was on my periphery when I lived in my home country. People would often mention how certain groups of immigrants all lived in one area of a city, and maybe “kept to themselves”, or “didn’t learn English”. As the issue didn’t apply to me, I ignored it, as was my privilege as being part of the majority.

When I moved to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish, I didn’t know ANY Spanish (or similar languages), which made me a target for xenophobia at the school where I worked. I absorbed the abuse like a sponge; it was my fault they hated me, if I spoke better Spanish they would treat me better, etc. I got it in to my head that “intensive” courses would help me, so I signed up to all of the Spanish classes that I could, and I struggled and struggled and struggled. I allowed my Spanish coworkers to make me feel guilty for not knowing their language, as if not having had the opportunity to study Spanish made me a “bad” person. They were insecure about their English so they took it out on me, trying to get me to pronounce words in Spanish and laughing at my attempts. The idea of being one of those “güiris” who just hung around with other English speakers and didn’t “make any effort” repulsed me, so I spent all of my time outside of work with Spanish people, at different types of events; parties, drawing clubs, dance classes, picnics, gigs, volunteering.

I spent two years miserable, and mostly alone. At best, Spanish people patronised me, gloating about how “¡internacional!” they were to have a token foreigner at their party. At worst, people screamed in my face for being different, pushing in front of me in waiting lines, full of resentment that I was “Erasmus”* (which I wasn’t. I had a degree, I had a job, I was working, I was paying my own rent), while they were unable to get a job within their own country, as if I had control over the political and economic situation.

(*Erasmus is a scholarship in Europe for people to spend a semester or full year studying at a university abroad. As with many scholarships, students use it to party their stresses away with the free wine money the government has given them. For Spanish students, who don’t leave home to study abroad, this might be the first time they have rented their own apartment, hence the nickname “orgasmus”)

And always, always, the bilingual coordinator at school spoke of “integration”. We had a meeting about it once a month, where we were chastised for “speaking English” in the dining room (when our Spanish English-speaking coworkers wanted to practice with us), but this was an atmosphere where I sat down and people (grown adults) would abruptly get up to sit somewhere else because they didn’t want to sit next to me, or people wouldn’t say “Hello” to you in the corridor (which is customary here). From these experiences, it became clear that “integration” was something that we did, while other people were allowed to use us as psychological punch bags. We had to eat fruit with knives and forks, as it was “the Spanish way”. We were told to “stop eating all the food”, as whenever the breakfast buffet ran out of something, it was our fault. When we were sick, we didn’t have a cold, we were hungover, because that was our stereotype and stereotypes are always correct. We were told to “integrate”, but we weren’t given a “way in”. Our Spanish coworkers formed a tight, sealed circle, with only one or two breaking ranks to show interest in their new, temporary colleagues, mostly motivated by practicing English with us, which made their coworkers despise us even more.

I still hear my friends in Britain, all monolingual, saying mildly xenophobic things, like commenting that someone “had lived in the UK 30 years and still didn’t speak English”, pronounced in that tone of disgust, as if “speaking English”, or any language for that matter, were an easy thing, accessible to all. If an immigrant doesn’t have a job in the native language, they don’t have an opportunity to speak it on a daily basis, because making friends is hard, especially factoring in different cultural norms.

Last week, someone chastised me for having English speaking friends. I explained to the person that without a job in Spanish, making friends here is hard, seeing as this region has a “cuadrilla” system, meaning that you make friends in primary school, and you keep that group of friends for life. My boyfriend’s cuadrilla have made it clear that they are not interested in being friends with me. They don’t bother to remember my name, they ask me no questions or show no interest in me whatsoever, they talk about me within earshot as if I can’t understand them, they criticise my Spanish, my pale skin, my choice of music, they assume that I don’t know how to play poker and suggest that I should share cards with my partner,. In short, they don’t treat me with kindness or respect, and I don’t feel comfortable with them or like spending time with them, which is a huge source of disappointment for me. I had hoped that my boyfriend’s friends could be my friends too, but I am coming to terms with the fact that that is not possible. Even after explaining all that, the person continued to imply that I “wasn’t trying hard enough”. I wanted to say: “I’ve lived in Spain almost 5 years. I’ve made one friend who is Spanish/Basque. How much harder do I need to try? I’m done with trying”.

My boyfriend is French, and is happy living here. I am now learning French, and I can see that about 40% of their language is the same as Spanish. Nouns, verbs, expressions, grammatical concepts like masculine and feminine as well as the subjunctive. They even use bread to eat dinner in the same way, tearing it off in a chunk, and using it to push food onto their fork. Integrating is easier the closer your native language and customs are to the target culture.

I’m not integrated here, because if integrating means being Spanish, or Basque, or something else, then that’s not me, and it never will be. I can’t eat my dinner with a fork in one hand and a piece of bread in the other, and I don’t want to. I drink PG Tips in the morning. I dunk biscuits in it. When I eat soup, I dunk a sandwich in it. These are things that I like to do, tiny things that go back to my earliest childhood.

I’m me. I’m from where I’m from. That’s not better, that’s not worse, it’s just different. If people here or anywhere else don’t want to accept me for that, then that is their problem, not mine.

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