Friday, December 15, 2006

La lotería

But perhaps the biggest deal about Christmas in Spain is el gordo. The national Christmas lottery. Last year I couldn't wrap my mind around people's obsession with this dang lotería. I'm understanding more and more.

The way it works is that there are lots and lots of numbers to be sold. And schools, companies, bars, stores, et cetera, have numbers--the same number every year. My association with the lottery, of course, is through my school. Number 41975 is ours and all the teachers buy a part of it. Last year, under pressure from my colleagues, I bought a décimo (a tenth) for 20 euros and played. We didn't win. But we did get our 20 euros back because the big winner shared the same final digit as ours.

The idea of the lottery is nice, I've decided. You play as a group and it's a whole camaraderie thing. People's favorite words to utter this season are, "¿Y si nos toca?" ("And if we win?") And they are also the words you think when you find out that the school's number is agotado (sold out) and you don't have your décimo.

That's what happened this year. They ran out of our number! Oh, the scandal! If we win and a quarter of the staff didn't get a chance to buy their part? The principal, herself, was left without a lottery ticket for our number.

It was the talk of coffee break.

Knowing that surely our number would win this year, the year in which a number of us don't have it, the assistant principal took action. She asked those who already had their décimo to sell half of it to we poor souls and bought us décimos in another number to sell half to the people who'd shared with us. So now six of us have 10 euros in the school's number and 10 in another number, which we're hoping will be lucky.

The drawing is December 22nd. ¿Y si nos toca?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

La cesta

Christmas has hit Madrid in a big way. Lights are everywhere (Madrid apparently has spent several times the money on lights as any other Spanish city), the belén (nativity) has been constructed in the entrance of my school, stores are open on Sundays, Papa Noel climbs store fronts and dangles from apartment windows. (The other day I witnessed a three-year old boy yelling up to a stuffed Santa perched above a store awning. He was telling him what he wanted for Christmas. His mother looked on patiently.)

Even in workplaces the joys are many. Yesterday I lugged home my cesta de navidad ("Christmas basket") from the security company where I teach classes three hours a week. For my three hours, I get the same cesta as the full-time employees. Not a bad deal.

It was so heavy, however, that I almost expired carrying it through the metro and the four blocks to my apartment. Thankfully one of my students gave me a ride to a metro station just a couple stops (and the same line) from where I live (normally it's a 45-minute trip with a long walk between two different lines). But Oh. My. God. Said basket contains six bottles of various libations: 3 wines (two red, one white), 2 bottles of cava (Catalán champagne), and one of whiskey. Then you've got four tablets of turrón--a typical Spanish Christmas sweet made out of almonds--, cookies, chocolate covered almonds, and cans of olives, hearts of palm, pineapple, and peaches.

The cesta is tradition here in almost every company. My roommate got one too: with a jamón (that is, a cured pig's leg) and cheese, among other things. My students at the security company, though, were complaining about the one we received. One of them said, "Well, the wine is drinkable."

I don't care. I'm thrilled.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


This afternoon we, the auxiliares de conversación of Madrid, had a so-called "briefing" with officials from the U.S. Embassy. Last year they didn't bother to make contact with the nearly 100 of us working in Madrid.

The meeting was largely unhelpful, and quite disheartening. The director of regional security presented first because one of the higher-ups at the Embassy was late. He spoke to us about safety in Madrid--mostly things that were complete common sense. And then, noting terrorism, he said, "Al Qaeda is a presence in Spain. They were behind the attacks of March 11th. ... After all, Morocco is just south."

I didn't know that Moroccans were particularly important members of Al Qaeda.

When a girl mentioned that she'd been to Morocco several years ago and had an experience where she was lucky not to have her passport stolen, the security director responded, "We are talking about the Middle East here."

Oh, really? I thought Morocco was in Africa.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An organic buffet and some carrot cake

The other day a friend and I were searching for a place to eat. (In Spanish the way you talk about the midday meal (la comida--"the meal") is not "to have lunch," but rather just "to eat" (comer)). So if I say we were looking for a place to eat, in my Spanish-ized way of thinking I mean we were looking for a place to eat lunch.

Well, it was a little late for lunch (though Spanish lunches are relatively late there's a short window: 2-4 p.m.), so we'd already gotten turned down at one place. But lo and behold, across from the failed attempt on Calle Huertas, we discovered a fabulous organic market and buffet where we salivated and debated over how best to ration the chickpeas, seitan, and veggie lasagna to keep our plates down to a reasonable price (it was 1.80 euros per 100 grams). The food was delicious--flavorful and filling without being meat or fried--and a welcome change from typical Spanish restaurant fare. One of the best things about the place was that there was also a tiny dessert buffet with some yummy-looking carrot cake--not exactly the most popular dessert in España. We shared a piece and were completely inspired to make our own.

So we spent Sunday afternoon grating carrots, chopping walnuts, beating the cream cheese icing by hand, and trying to fit two layers of cake into my tiny oven. At the end of it all we had assembled a beautiful (and really tasty) carrot cake. The recipe is from the Frog Commissary and loved by my mother. We found it online and modified it slightly.