Lehman Family Christmas Letter 2004

Season’s greetings and salutations from the Land of the Lehmans! Yes it’s that time again. No no, not that time. We’re not even going to talk about that time of year, and quite frankly I’m disgusted that you even thought of that. No, I’m talking about Christmas time of course! And this Christmas, back by popular demand, I, Mark Lehman have been contracted to write the newsletter once again. When I say contracted, don’t get confused—what I really mean is mom and dad have stopped feeding me until this is finished. Boy, am I hungry.

The theme for this year is travel. Though we’ve always enjoyed our family vacations, this year saw the Lehmans become practically nomadic. Yet somehow, amidst the travels, we all had to keep up with work, friends, and a host of other activities to occupy our time. In my case, this includes school, and with only two days having elapsed since my brain completely shut down after final exams, I will be going the route of least creativity by structuring this history in alphabetical order, beginning with Daniel.

This year, Daniel finally wrapped his arms around the city of his residence in a warm, accepting embrace. Translation: he spent an average of 25 hours a day improving his surfing using two new surfboards, he bought a hot red Camaro with which he cruises for beach babes, and he resumed work as a film and theater critic. Unfortunately for him, the critic job is non-paying, but it allows him to be published in a magazine with nearly 100,000 circulation, sufficiently padding his ego. He has, however, found a few small gigs writing biographies for aspiring musicians, and though they don’t pay much, they also don’t take long, and they let him pride himself in knowing that he is actually writing and getting paid for it.

Unnaturally, with all these activities, he still finds time for his job at Washington Mutual, funding loans for the rich and the famous. While it continues to not be his dream job, it also continues to pay much more than he needs, thus practically obliging him to shout “Vegas, baby, Vegas!” and visit the city of sin almost once each season. Also on the flight schedule, a short jaunt to St. Louis where he visited his best friend who attends the aptly-named Saint Louis University came to pass in October, and various road trips up and down the Cali coast occurred continuously throughout the year. As if that wasn’t enough, in the intervening time he began training for the LA Marathon as well as an ascent up Mt. Whitney. Mom and dad are holding out hope he’ll find enlightenment on the mountain and turn away from his maniacally villainous temperament, but if I were a betting man, I’d wager against that with at least 10 to 1 odds.

I’m going to go ahead and do something unprecedented here and combine Michelle’s and Dave’s blurbs into one, because I’m just ‘That Guy.’ That, and if I combine them, I’ll finish this faster and will be able to break my forcefully-imposed fast.

With both their sons out of the house, and one out of the country for half the year (we’ll get to that later…patience, grasshoppers), mom and dad found consolation in each other. Of course, it helped that they were all over the globe for half a year, partying with friends in Cabo San Lucas, celebrating weddings in Minnesota, and doing God knows what for their anniversary in San Luis Obispo. They also took a page out of Daniel’s book, meeting up with him and going crazy—er, excuse me, attending a “real estate convention”—in Las Vegas. Yeah, a convention…like I believe that for a second.

At work, Dave performed marriages for family friends, as well as helped raise $60,000 for the Easter Seals charity through his organizing a car raffle. Michelle, the other half of the team, swooped in and sold houses to Dave’s newlyweds and reaped the benefits big time when she headed down to San Diego in the fall for a CENTURY 21 top agent retreat at the Hotel Coronado. All this business helped fund the major purchase of the year which, combined with last year’s addition, makes movie viewing at the Lehman house an ostentatiously mind-boggling experience. Indeed, the plush new leather couches and recliner are so incredible, there exists no vocabulary to accurately describe them, forcing me to make up a word. Slentrublastic. Truly slentrublastic.

Getting back to the alphabetical order with which we began our harrowing tale, I shall now recount the Many Misadventures of Harley P. Lehman. The dog had a surprisingly eventful year, as we recently discovered that she has been digging a gapingly large hole in the back yard. For what purpose, one can only speculate. Possibilities range from those of deep sadness and depression such as digging her own tomb, to the much more practical idea of creating a hiding place from me, who so loves to torment her by pushing her around so she slips and slides on the hardwood floor. Perhaps, after all is said and done, we might simply have our own backyard tunnel to China. Only time will tell.

The nagging modesty of my inner subconscious has left myself for last again this year. As a reward, I shall give myself three paragraphs rather than the standard two, because sometimes one simply must pamper oneself. To begin the year with a unique approach, I left on a jet plane to Spain to study abroad for a semester at Saint Louis University – Madrid Campus, where I managed to 1) burn through thousands of dollars in a 5 month span, B) hit the bar and club scene, something which the 18-year-old drinking age allowed and encouraged, and III) dance! That’s right, I hopped on the good foot and did the bad thing and learned the basics of salsa, bachata, merengue, tango, rumba, and flamenco. The new Lord of the Dance has come.

Apart from the dancing, I spent the rest of my time traveling throughout Europe. With either newfound amigos, an old friend, or family, I managed to stamp the passport in (reverse-alphabetical order) Sweden, Scotland, The Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, England, Denmark, and Belgium, not to mention see just about every major and minor metropolis in Spain.

Having arrived back in Sacramento in June and done absolutely nothing productive all summer, I moved into my first apartment in LA in August, where my roommate and I promptly made a fort out of cardboard moving boxes and I vainly tried to protect myself from the rapidly approaching onslaught of school and extracurriculars. Serving as the Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor of the school newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan, as well as becoming involved in Sursum Corda, a service organization on campus, have taken up most of the time that classes do not, but still I managed to fly away to St. Louis and Nashville this semester to visit friends and attend a newspaper conference, respectively. While in Nashville, I participated in my first hoedown and learned five different country line dances. Quite slentrublastic.

The Lehmans synergized their family vacations this year into one great big Super Ultra Mega Vacation when they came to visit Mark (me) in Spain in May. The thought process is as follows: “Mark gets to go to Europe? I’ve never been to Europe. That’s not fair. I know! Let’s go visit him!” We began in Madrid, where we ate the best churros of our lives, then journeyed down to Málaga by way of Toledo, where we saw Don Quixote, and Sevilla, where we saw flamenco dancers, then drove to Spain’s East side and Alicante in Valencia, where we saw old British tourist women sunbathe topless. All in all, enough sightseeing for all. That is, until Barcelona, where we couldn’t have seen everything if we tried, which we did. And to give mom and dad a break, in the middle of those three weeks, Daniel and I took a short jaunt to Amsterdam. If either of us ever remembers anything from that trip, we’ll let you know.

Thus, another year meets its doom at my doorstep. With the Christmas letter written, we can finally start to focus on the most important aspects of the holiday season. And one thing is for sure—now that it’s finished, mom and dad will finally stop withholding the food supply. Happy holidays everyone, enjoy the time together, don’t pig out too much, and if you’re feeling blue, just remember the wise words of a notable Latin scholar: “Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscripti catapultas habebunt.” (When catapults are outlawed only outlaws will have catapults.)

Love,
Dave, Michelle, Daniel, Mark, and Harley P. Lehman

P.S. Despite censoring the letter quite heavily, mom and dad still wash their hands of it. If it offends anyone, it is mom and dad’s humble request that you take it up with the author—me, Mark Lehman. I, in turn, will completely ignore any and all complaints.

Where Are They Now?

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my articles from the now-defunct humor section, Tangent.
Where Are They Now?

James Malins
Business Director
  and
Mark J. Lehman
Assistant A & E Editor

Originally published December 2004

Everyone has seen the TV programs showing us what various actors and actresses that used to be stars are doing with their lives now, but what about the characters that these actors and actresses played? Where are they? What’s become of them? Does anyone care?

We do, and you should too.
  1. Randall ‘Randy’ Taylor from "Home Improvement" – Seeking an exploratory journalism career, Randy severed ties with the Taylors and left college at the age of 20 to immerse himself in the culture of the Bambuti tribe of Gabon in Africa. Adopting the name Jomo Juma, which roughly translated, means “Farmer born on Friday,” Randy’s work is featured bi-monthly in National Geographic.

  2. Carlton Banks from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" – Though he spent many years and thousands of dollars on Duke Law School, Carlton found his true calling only six months ago when he was hired on as the new host of Soul Train. His greatest achievement occurred in late September when he played the first Tom Jones song ever featured on the show.

  3. Hermes ‘Uncle Jesse’ Katsopolis from "Full House" – Found dead in his penthouse suite in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas due to a cocaine overdose in the spring of 1997. Many attribute his drug problem to shame about the revelation of his real name in the National Enquirer, but some think the cause may be the Beach Boys rejecting their second single in collaboration—“For a Long, Long Time”—in late November of 1996.

  4. Steven Urkel from "Family Matters" – Years of torment forced Urkel into seclusion in his basement, where he continued his scientific pursuits and, in June 1999, succeeded in inventing a machine with cold-fusion capabilities. Unfortunately, in true Urkel fashion, in his rush to show Laura his discovery, he tripped and shattered the machine. He has not been seen since.

  5. Charles from "Charles in Charge" – After 12 years of being a “nanny,” Charles moved to Pensacola to tend bar at his brother Kyle’s Bikini Beach Bar. In May 2001 he was brought in on charges of selling stolen liquor to minors, but Charles decided to turn his life around and use the six months community service ordered by the state to start a non-profit organization called CHAZ, or the Center for Housing Animals and Zookeeping, in Des Moines.

  6. Michael Seaver from "Growing Pains" - His precocious nature garnered him a role on a sitcom in the late '90s about a family of five and the trials and tribulations they face as each of the kids grows up. Unfortunately, the show failed to catch on with mainstream audiences. Mike now hosts a mid-afternoon game show that makes contestants answer trivia questions to avoid being severely hurt.

  7. Sophia Spirelli Petrillo Weinstock from "The Golden Girls" – On the way home from a morning grocery run, she encountered an enamored Cody from Step by Step, and seizing the opportunity for a May-December romance, she took him that very weekend to Jamaica to elope. They reside happily in a small sand fortress on a beach in Waikiki.

  8. Cody Lambert from "Step by Step" – Concussed and delirious from a head wound on the construction site, Cody met Sophia from The Golden Girls and fell madly in love. This year they celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.

  9. Kelly Kapowski from "Saved By The Bell" – After exhausting her entire personal savings from waitressing at The Max by giving large endowments to several charitable organizations, including helping fund CHAZ with Charles from Charles in Charge, Kelly joined the Peace Corp and single-handedly solved all of the problems in the Middle East. She now happily resides in a two-bedroom apartment in Westchester with her two man-slaves James Malins and Mark J. Lehman.
[Los Angeles Loyolan web site does not have archives available this far back.]

The tragedy of no more blue balls

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Opinion articles.
The tragedy of no more blue balls

Mark J. Lehman
Assistant A & E Editor

Originally published November 3, 2004

LMU’s gymnasium and fitness center has just about anything in a modern gym that any student could want or need. For the bodybuilders, a wide array of weights, barbells and medicine balls. For the flexible folk, an eclectic assortment of yoga and pilates classes. For the sports stars, a large pool to do laps or play water polo, or a large basketball area and multi-purpose sports court, not to mention the popular intramural leagues. And for those lucky enough to know about them, two racquetball courts hidden deep in the bowels of Gersten Pavilion.

Unfortunately for the attendees of this fine institution, one of LMU’s best kept secrets has been secretly taken out of existence.

And for what, you ask? What could be more important than a rousing game of racquetball on a crisp November day? Why, more sports offices, of course!

This is what the administration at Gersten Pavilion says, at least. And while it might seem easy to point the finger at them, I’m certain it extends deeper, to some sort of budget cut or funding proposal rejection, forcing the sports people to colonize the wonderful yet relatively unknown courts. However, just because most students do not know about this special privilege afforded them, does this mean it is acceptable or reasonable to take this haven away from the students? To draw an analogy, if you possessed a bank account with $100 in deposits and you did not know about it, does that make it tolerable for someone to steal your $100? Clearly, the answer is “No!”

The first problem with this situation is simply the lack of awareness of the existence of these beautiful courts. Nowhere in the gym is there any sort of sign or reference to playing racquetball for free right here on this very campus. Walking through Burns Rec, I see not one poster or flyer proclaiming “Come enjoy a fast-paced game of intense, fat-burning racquetball—guaranteed to raise your heart rate as well as your level of happiness!” I ask the administration—if these racquetball courts are for the students, then why doesn’t anyone know anything about them? Even the employees at the Rec Center, when I have gone to borrow a racquet and a ball, often have to be shown where to find the equipment either by myself or by their manager. This is absolutely preposterous, and more than likely a major factor in the shutting down of the courts.

A second major issue I have is with the decision to simply abandon the courts and surrender them to the expansion of the sports offices. While I do not presume to say that sports offices are not important and that they should not be expanded, my main issue with this comes on the coattails of the recent news story about LMU’s brand new state-of-the-art fingerprinting technology for Burns Rec. As if this wasn’t enough of a colossal waste of money (not to mention ridiculous to have the system in place only at the Rec Center and only as a backup if you forgot your OneCard), it also took away funding which could more effectively have been spent in perhaps building some temporary sports offices or something to that effect. Certainly there could have been some way around this if only it had been thought through.

With all the hoopla over the election and the presidential race, it’s easy to dismiss this racquetball court crisis as something about which none should fret. I urge you, however, to take action. This, fellow students, is a matter of grave importance; an issue that affects us all, mentally, physically, spiritually and sometimes metaphysically. Each one of us needs to voice his or her opinion by marching right into Gersten Pavilion, going up the stairs to the sports offices, and telling them loudly, clearly and succinctly “Maybe I don’t play racquetball, but it’d still be darn nice if I could!”

The world, and LMU, would be a better place for it.
[Los Angeles Loyolan web site does not have archives available this far back.]

Poultry, Pastries and Pleasure: An evening with the Night Rider

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my articles from the now-defunct humor section, Tangent.
Poultry, Pastries and Pleasure
An evening with the Night Rider

James Malins
Business Director
  and
Mark J. Lehman
Assistant A & E Editor

Originally published September 1, 2004

Nightfall. Darkness envelopes the city. Tires screech. Children cry. The Night Rider rides the night.

The equipment: 25 clams, a valid California class C driver’s license, and a bad attitude.
The mission: To have a good time. And to look good doin’ it.

It was a Friday like any other Friday, except this particular Friday was different. Two mysterious strangers known solely as The Night Rider slipped through the shadows of West L.A. in search of three things: poultry, pastries, and pleasure. Dressed to dine and hungry like wolves who haven’t eaten in quite some time, the two strangers scavenged the city for a site that would satisfy their desires. Finally, one man stepped forward to meet the challenge. Like a beacon shining out over the darkness, that man lives by one name only: Roscoe.

Rumors ran rampant that Roscoe had stopped recognizing the sanctity of breakfast and dinner by coalescing two distinct elements of their respective meal. His mother had obviously never taught him that chicken and waffles are separate entities, unable to coexist peacefully, much like badgers and something that doesn’t like badgers. All badgering aside, The Night Rider had come into that particular place on that particular Friday night to get the lowdown on just who this particular Roscoe feller thought he was, particularly. Disguised as a Cuban drug lord and a Vegas lounge singer, The Night Rider played the singleton to Roscoe and his legions of henchman led by the Sunrise-Lemonade-toting Mama Ella. Right off the bat, Mama Ella laid down the law of her kitchen: “Baby, take your feet off the seat.”

The menu was indeed filled with both chicken and waffles, Venn diagrammed together into a single dish of pure soul. Informed that menu item # 13 was bursting with the fatty goodness of 1 part waffle, 1 part chicken, 2 parts syrup, 3 parts butter, and 8 parts funk, The Night Rider surrendered to its heart-clogging majesty. Skeptic and morally mystified, The Night Rider and his victuals danced the forbidden tango of tastefulness and trash, and ultimately, the congenial cuisine enslaved and engorged The Night Rider. As though that unholy matrimony of chicken and waffles was not enough for Mama Ella, her twisting of the tanginess of lemonade with the creamy thickness of orange juice into the Sunrise Lemonade straddled the line between insanity and ingenuity. Needless to say this sunrise illuminated the darkness of the night in which The Night Rider was riding and had ridden thus far.

After all was said and eaten, The Night Rider capitulated to Roscoe and his crazy concoctions and was even coerced into spending more than the 25 bone he was allotted by The Man. Determined to continue riding the night, The Night Rider devised his own savage scheme to restock his pockets. After getting a taste of the tango, The Night Rider came down with a fever… Dance Fever. He stripped off his sombrero, put on his platforms, and cut the concrete of the street with his two cent robot moves. The infection spread with a vigor matched only by the burrowing power of the platypi, and soon enough people had come down with Dance Fever to supply The Night Rider with necessary funds to resume his riding of the night.

The Night Rider rode on to the republic of Burbank, where he would walk the mean streets of Universal City. Having had his precious prize money pilfered from them by the pugilistic parking police and their preposterous $8 fee, The Night Rider pressed on to partake in a performance to end all performances. Surrounded by a crowd not quite old enough to parent The Night Rider, but not quite young enough to associate with him, he spent the concert watching geriatrics reminisce over songs that broke out around the same time The Night Rider broke out in his own rite. Leading the nostalgia this particular night was The Spazmatics, an 80’s cover band, covering 80’s songs in a manner akin to that of other cover bands who cover other types of music at night. After a rousing rendition of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” The Night Rider was sufficiently woken up before he went-went on riding the night.

The winding roads of Los Angeles led The Now Alert Night Rider to a classy cocktail party complete with classy cocktails, classy people, and classy accents. Still dressed in appropriate attire and sensing the onus to assimilate the environment, The Now Alert Night Rider infiltrated the festivities by maintaining a rouse of a proper British snob. Off-the-cuff remarks regarding Father’s yachts and country clubs sufficiently beguiled the crowd and garnered The Now Alert Night Rider admiration akin to that of the finest “Hahvahd” professor. Despite fevered attempts to enjoy the festivities, the party spoiled at the hands of chips that had done the same, proliferating a chewiness that was chewier than the chewiest of Charleston Chews. Fortunately, The Night Rider cannot be not riding the night, so The Night Rider rode on into the night!

If you should find yourself seeking poultry, seeking pastries and seeking pleasure, remember what The Night Rider says, “It’s always the night time somewhere, so RIDE!”
[Los Angeles Loyolan web site does not have archives available this far back.]

The Short List of Things I Learned in the Foreign Land

  • Having large, black, wooden bull signs randomly placed all over the countryside is one of the most fantastic things I have seen in my life.
  • Mullets, contrary to what many a twentysomething Spaniard thinks, are NOT acceptable hairstyles. Unless, of course, it is Halloween, Carnaval, or any other holiday on which one is supposed to look completely foolish.
  • Bullfights are interesting, but when a matador has not lost a fight in x number of years, one should realize it is not quite a fair fight.
  • The window of opportunity to drink and do drugs and take advantage of young girls is getting smaller by the day. Live it up. (Okay, so maybe not the do drugs part. And you must be careful how young the “young” girls are, but still… Live it up.)
  • On the topic of girls: Spanish women tend to be at a good level of hotness from ages 16-30, at which point all their skin begins a sort of melting-off process similar to that of the nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not attractive.
  • Pulling all-nighters is not quite so bad when one is riding a bus on the way to places such as London or Rome.
  • Having coins worth 2 euros is dangerous. Having a pocketful full of such coins on a Saturday night is utterly treacherous.
  • On the topic of money: Withdrawing 200-300 euros at one time to “beat the ATM fee” rarely actually helps one’s situation. When amounts of money like this are in one’s possession, they tend not to stay there for long.
  • Real Madrid might rule España, but the Sacramento Kings still rule the US (as well as my heart).
  • No matter what country/city/town/etc you may be in, count on seeing at least one Irish pub. Not-so-hidden meaning: the Irish are known—everywhere!—for drunkenness.
  • I’m proud to be Irish!
  • Just because someone has never done it before, does not always mean it is a good idea. Case in point: garlic beer. Beer, but with little pieces of garlic chopped up into the head. Not cool, Zeus.
  • Sharing a room with 6 strangers in a youth hostel, one of whom is a strange middle-aged Middle Eastern man who sits in a corner and watches us like a hungry (or horny?) hawk certainly makes one long for home.
  • Sharing a room with 12 strangers in a youth hostel, one of whom does some serious self-fondling in his bed while people are in the room, certainly makes me long for the time when all I had to worry about was a strange middle-aged Middle Eastern man.
  • Despite my ignorance of how to use it properly, the bidet is a magnificent invention.
  • German chicks are cute. British chicks are attractive. Italian chicks are hot. Spanish chicks are hotter. Swedish chicks are hottest. And Scottish chicks are downright ugly.
  • The wine and cheese diet works fabulously. Or perhaps it is the 2-3 miles of walking per day that works. Same diff.
  • On the topic of weight: Almost every guy I know has lost weight here. Almost every girl I know has gained weight here. I will let you draw your own conclusions so I do not accidentally say something sexist.
  • Scarves get a bad rap in the US. Comfortable. Stylish. Sophisticated. I am certainly taking mine home with me.
  • Dancing kicks ass. Flamenco dancing kicks more ass. Latin dancing kicks even more ass. Tap dancing, however, still kicks the most ass.
  • When someone wishes you “mucha mierda” (literal translation: “much shit”), it’s not always a bad thing (figurative translation: “Break a leg”).
  • Scottish English, is, in fact, it’s own language.
  • Churros… (drool)… I cannot even continue my thought process.
  • Just because you met the man that made your shoes, does not mean that they will not give you blisters the size of Massachusetts.
  • Disney songs are way cooler in Spanish. And way funnier in German.
  • On the topic of music: Germany has, by far, the best Karnival music. Probably because nearly all of their music sounds like it should be played a carnival.
  • Nearly all Italian stereotypes are accurate—and I love them for it.
  • Kilts are, hands down, the sweetest form of dresses for men.
  • David Bisbal, the American Idol of Spain (or Spanish Idol, I suppose), is the god of my universe. For the next few months, at least.
  • Learning to country line dance in a Spanish bar at 2am is cool. Being better at it drunk than the sober Spaniards in the bar is even cooler. Yee-haw!
  • Classes? I took classes here?

SPAIN UPDATE # 6

Summertime… and the livin’ is most definitely easy.

Hello again, and welcome to the final installment of Mark’s European Vacation! When last we left him, our sophisticated yet still delightfully uncouth narrator had returned from the exotic isle of Ibiza and anticipated a successful and exciting end to a positively enthralling semester. Let’s join him now as he recounts his adventures on the other side of the pond…

What better place to begin then Ibiza. After months of exhausting mental exertion… okay, maybe not exhausting mental exertion, probably more like fast-paced and on the edge of out of control partying… anyway, after months of doing lots of stuff here, I finally got a chance to kick back and do not as much stuff on the beautiful island of Ibiza off the eastern coast of Spain. My comrades Pat, Jordan, and Luis helped me to enjoy some intense tanning and lying around, and even a bit of sand castle construction and cold sea swimming for a 3-day weekend of heaven on earth. Not to mention that we had a hotel with a postcard-worthy view for only 25 bucks a night, and it sat right on the edge of a beautiful cove and gorgeous beach with plenty of lovely half-naked women. Suffice to say, despite our expectations of going out to clubs and parties every night, we exhausted ourselves so much from the lying around all day that we ended up in bed earlier than we usually were on school nights. Fortunately, none of the clubs were open yet anyway (it was still off-season) so we didn’t miss out on anything. Just a chill weekend with some good food, good friends, and good times.

Back to school, and back into the hectic week of dance performances! For those who had forgotten, all of my friends and I were in a couple different dance classes where we were learning to woo the ladies with salsa, tango, flamenco, and the like. As with any class, the final exam was coming, but for these, the exam consisted of a 2-hour stage performance in front of an auditorium of people. Not only that, but the chorus class I was in also wanted to perform, so in one night I was lucky enough to sing my heart out with the chorus then bust a move—flamenco style—in a dance-off of epic proportions. Videos of both of these performances are forthcoming.

Finals came and went with little fanfare, and finally the end of the semester and my family both arrived simultaneously. They met my new friends, sampled Madrid, and then we all busted outta there and drove down to Toledo, where Daniel and Dad had a swordfight with their new toys. After the day trip there, onward to Málaga we drove, and to our resort on the beach. Except that the resort wasn’t in Málaga and it wasn’t on the beach, it was 30 minutes away from the city and across a busy highway from the beach. Not exactly paradise, but once we realized we were still in Spain, nobody really complained.

Due to the lack of things to do around the resort, several more day trips were in order. The first, to Sevilla, where we did the tourist stuff and watched a live flamenco show, proved breathtaking, but I gotta tell ya, after only a semester of flamenco dancing, I think I could give those dancers a run for their money. Erm, well, maybe not, but it’s fun to imagine, no? Other trips included some of the Andalucian white hill towns such as Rhonda and Zahara where we did some hiking and tried not to crash the car when driving through the über-narrow alleyways and ultra-steep roads. We also managed to make it out (and up!) to the rock of Gibraltar, where we were attacked by a pack of vicious monkeys with terrible plaque buildup and one with a bad case of the blues. And they were all named Jennifer. It was kinda weird, but fun in the way juggling flaming knives is fun (which I hear it is if you are good at doing it. I personally am not so I don’t know how much fun it would be for me).

Week 2 of vacation brought us to Alicante in Valencia, where the resort this time was at least within walking distance of a city and thus a bit more lively. Plus it was right on the beach, so bonus points for that. However, many, MANY points taken away for having tons of old, leathery-skinned, nasty women sunbathing topless all over the place. I don’t care what language you speak, that is not cool. No es frio. Das ist nicht kühl. We did most of our shopping and fine dining in the little town of Calpe where our hotel was, and Mom and Dad even got a little break when Daniel and I took a 3-day trip to Amsterdam. We had quite a time, sampling the local culture, enjoying pancakes and such, and watching old men, each with a cheering section, play gigantic chess games. They really know how to do it up—’Dam straight! After that ’Dam trip, we flew back to Spain and then all packed up and headed for Barcelona, where we partied like rock stars and guffawed at all the mullets and other 80’s hairstyles we saw. We also managed to take in most of sights I had already seen, and I firmed up my travel plans for the following three weeks. At the end of the vacation, we all had a tearful and hung-over goodbye (due to a joyful and drunken final evening) and the rest of my family left me to explore the rest of Europe. Next stop, Stockholm, Sweden!

I jetted out to Sweden for a few days of sleeping on a boat and ogling the women. All the stories you might hear about Swedish females are quite true, and they’re all super nice to boot. I had a relaxing couple of days there, did some more museums and such, then secured my rail pass and hopped a train to Copenhagen, or as those crazy Danes like to say, Købnhavn, where I took a gander at the little mermaid and checked out some more museums. (Those of you who read my plans in the last email should disregard what they read because plans have a tendency to change. Try not to get too confused in the coming paragraphs.) With one day left before I was to meet my friend in Amsterdam, I decided I’d take a day trip to Brussels. Here is where trouble began.

On any normal trip across an ocean, like for instance from Denmark to Germany, one would assume riding a train the whole time just isn’t possible. After all, there’s not a bridge, so how might they go about driving a train across miles of water? These are some of the things I thought about when I missed the boat. You see, when the train made its last stop before the ocean, I assumed it was time to leave the train and get on the boat. Once off the train, I hurried to get on board the boat, only to be locked out as it was preparing to leave the dock. Panicked, I asked a German couple nearby and received my answer: “The train? Well, the train is on the boat!” Trains do not go on boats! I replied, angrily, in my head. People go on boats! People go on trains! Trains do not go on boats! Alas, it seems logic and reason were some of the many things that were lost in translation. I boarded the next boat out, made it to the Germany, and found out that mine was the last train out and I was stranded at the nearly abandoned boat station until morning. I set up shop, washed my hair in the bathroom sink, and spent a semi-sleepless night on a bench in a cold German docking station.

After that whole debacle I was ready for some good times, and I got them when my buddy Steve from Sacramento came to visit. We met up in Amsterdam where we did the Heineken Experience and saw an improv comedy show, hit up Brussels for a day where we bought 2 pounds of Belgian chocolate and ate lots of Belgian waffles, then took the night train to Berlin. In Berlin, we spent a great deal of time eyeballing the extremely attractive women there (for some reason, it seems 97.63% of the lovely German ladies have decided to live in Berlin… it’s like the Los Angeles of Germany). We did get a chance to check out the essentials—Checkpoint Chalie, the Berliner Dom, the TV tower, and heaps of museums and such—and we even hopped over the Berlin wall to take a trip to a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen about 20 miles out of the city. Sufficiently depressed from that side trip, we took the next train out to Munich where we drowned our sorrows in liter-sized mugs of beer at the Biergartens.

We next decided we had had enough of Germany and went on a whirlwind tour of Italy, starting in Florence. We saw some of the biggies like Brunelleschi’s Duomo and the tombs of several very important folk, and we also managed to eat gelati about six times a day not to mention before and after meals, which were also delicious. After an evening event seeing a strange but altogether quite amusing theater performance, we spent the night then took off for Venice in the morning, where we got hopelessly lost in the alleyways but still managed to visit Piazza San Marco and watch some bothersome Americans sing “That’s Amore” as loud as they could. No wonder the rest of the world dislikes us… I’ll never hear properly again.

Two down, one to go. Having already seen Rome myself, we stayed away from there, mostly because it was also way farther south than we wanted to go if we were still to be able to do Paris. So we did the next best place: Verona! We became Gentlemen of Verona, relaxing and enjoying the simple pleasures of small-town folk, eating more gelati and hanging out with Romeo & Juliet. Evening came and morning followed, and thus ended our Italian conquest. We hit the country hard and fast and left it wanting more.

We next found ourselves in Paris on the last leg of our journey together, where we managed to find a nice hotel with a balcony looking out over a slightly shadier part of the city, but it was cheap and clean and so we didn’t mind. First stop was the Eiffel Tower, where we got almost to the top only to stand in line for an hour waiting for the elevators. We thought about making a break for it and charging up the stairs but we didn’t want to give anyone a fright, particularly the three Spanish girls in front of us in line who had taken a liking to us and hadn’t realized that I could understand everything they were saying. We reached the top and stood in awe the appropriate 60 minutes, rested, then stood in awe some more. Awe-stricken and tired of standing, we ventured on to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysées, where we got our first taste of French food, and most importantly, chocolate mousse. Mmmmmmmmousse.

Over the following two days, we saw Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, La Madeleine Church, Place de la Concorde, the Pantheon, and Père-Lachaise's Cemetery, where we saw Jim Morrison’s, Oscar Wilde’s, and a whole bunch of other famous people’s graves. That place was definitely happening, let me tell you. Sarcasm aside, it was pretty much the only place that didn’t cost money to get into, so we hit it up all the same. On the final day, we bought some French beers and wines and had our own little party on the balcony of our hotel, being loud and obnoxious and furthering the ugly American stereotype by shouting down to people on the street. Luckily, they all seemed nice and fairly receptive, most waving to us with the full hand rather than the one finger salute. The following morning, Steve and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, he going back to London to catch his flight back to California, and I venturing down to Milan to catch a train to my last destination in Italy.

There’s not much to see or do in the small town of Parma, a 1-hour train ride from Milan. Not much, that is, except eat. So, I ate. And I had just about the best Italian food I have ever had and probably ever will. You see, the motivation to go to Parma was purely because this little town had created quite possibly the greatest food of all time—Parmesan cheese. So I spent a day and a half eating all the Parmesan cheese I could handle, only to pause now and then for a tasty morsel or two of delicious Prosciutto ham, another invention of this great city of Parma. And when I was completely full of ham and cheese, I washed it all down with a nice gelato or two. It would seem I was determined to fatten myself back up before returning to the states.

Barely able to walk after all that food, I finally made my way back to Milan where I caught the train to Barcelona and the bus back to Madrid to catch my flight to London and finally return home. As a nice going away present, my final flight home was delayed the good part of a day, forcing me to stay in Europe six hours longer than I was supposed to. It was almost as if Europe needed me. It didn’t want me to leave, and was desperately trying to cling to me like a girlfriend with whom I had broken up, using the old “It’s not you, it’s me.” Alas, she finally realized it was over, and we parted on good terms, each telling the other “Goodbye, good luck, I’ll see you again someday.”

And someday, I will.

Thanks to all who loved and supported me as well as emailed me throughout my travels, I truly count myself a very lucky young man to even be able to do all of this, and even luckier to have friends and family like you with whom I can share my tales.

All my love, cariñosamente, arrividerci, tschüss,
Mark

SPAIN UPDATE # 5

Buongiorno!

It's been a little while since the last update, and I know all of you are starving for more adventures of your humble narrator. Well here goes nothing! (Hope you have a bit of time to read this... it's probably going to be another novella.)

When last we left off, I had enjoyed a hectic but fun spring break in Ireland, Scotland, and London. Shortly after spring break, St. Patrick's Day came and went. Though it is not as celebrated in Spain as in US or a little place called Ireland, I still managed to find an Irish pub and get a free felt top hat that says Guinness on it. As far as I'm concerned, any holiday where people give away free top hats is a good holiday. That weekend I jumped back into the world of movies and saw Lost in Translation & Big Fish. Both very good and highly recommended. The next week I participated in my first open mic night, singing a solo of Your Song by Elton John, and I enjoyed it immensely, most especially the part afterwards when about three cute gals came to tell me "That was soooo good!" Now I understand the appeal of being in a band. That weekend, I went out with the guys, had a lot of fun, and got my wallet pick pocketed. I have since gotten all new credit cards and ran up about $300 in debt to several friends, which I will be paying back while watching my bank account go from hero to zero. To cheer myself up on Lost Wallet Weekend, some friends and I took in Spanish culture with a bullfight, and that coupled with seeing The Passion made for a weekend of no small amount of violence.

So. That was March.

Then came April, blasting in with a wonderful trip to the eternal city--Rome! Pat and I had the idea in February to go to Rome for Semana Santa (Holy Week), and it turned out to be both good and bad. Obviously, it was about as crowded as Rome ever gets, so that made some things more difficult and time consuming than we had hoped, but at the same time, more events were taking place and Rome was probably more exciting than it is the rest of the year. You give and you take and you hope all comes out well, and it did. But let's begin from the... beginning.

Some of you may remember what an annoyance our budget airline Ryanair was for our spring break trip. All Ryanair airports are about 1-2 hours outside of the major city that they say they are in, and having not realized this before booking our Rome flight, we were set to take them again. Luckily, the trip was not nearly as eventful this time around. Despite spending about 12 hours traveling from Madrid to Rome and back, the transportation went off without a hitch. Well, one hitch: we took the overnight bus and I am never able to sleep on buses, so basically I was awake from Tuesday morning until Wednesday night. (Funny how the only all-nighters I pull over here are for traveling sake rather than academics.) Our lodging, on the other hand, was quite the adventure. In booking our hostel, we went online to the normal hostel booking website, and found a place called Camping Roma. It was the cheapest hostel by about 6 euros a night, and we quickly found out for good reason. First, we only had a street name and address, so we found the street and started walking. About an hour of walking later, and after crossing, on foot, a busy Roman highway, we finally arrived at our place of lodging, which turned out to be tents right next to the highway, complete with cold showers and the works. The first night we practically froze, having tried to spare our money by not renting linens (the cots came with blankets... we thought we'd be fine. Both Pat and I woke up with headaches and the beginnings of pneumonia and decided to spring for more blankets. So the hostel wasn't exactly the greatest, but we made a lot of new friends there because, as everyone knows, people in traumatic situations tend to band together, not to mention there was only one bus that ran from the city outskirts to our hostel and more than half the people on the bus were about our age who had also had the impression that our "hostel" was more of a hostel than canvas tents next to the highway.

Besides the hostel, Rome was everything I could've dreamed. Eating pizza and gelati twice a day--now that's amore! Before coming, I had printed out a cheat sheet of Italian, but by the time we had gotten there, the only words and phrases I had memorized were "hello," "thank you," "your welcome," and a few pickup lines such as "you are a star... my star." On Thursday we went first to Vatican City, picked up our tickets for various Holy Week papal masses, then went inside St. Peter's to take a closer look. Pat had some friends studying in Rome that gave us a tour, where we saw Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, many different statues and obelisks, il Gesu (the Jesuit church where St. Ignatius and St. Xavier are buried), the Vittoriano (which I'm still not sure what it is), and several other cool places. Rome is interesting because when we would be looking for a specific place, we would accidentally stumble upon ruins that we did not know what they were but knew at least that they were about 3 times as old (or older) as America. There is such a bombardment of history in that city it is incredible. Friday, Pat was intent on getting out of the city ("it will be way too crowded"), but I had come to see Rome and dammit, I was going to see it no matter the crowds. Luckily, my good friend Ray had the same idea as Pat and I and had arrived into the city just in time to book it to St. Peter's Basilica to attend Good Friday mass. It was a neat experience, and we got to see the pope, but to put it into perspective, if you think hearing the passion read in English is long, try listening to it sung... in Latin. We were in there for fully 3 hours. But it was definitely worth it for the experience and for a chance to chill with JP2. Afterwards, we were both starving, so we went to get some food, and were heavily ripped off to the tune of 35 euros apiece for dinner. We knew for next time not to go to the place where they call at you in English. Rounded off the day with a trip to the Coliseum where the pope was sitting on top of a hill, everyone had candles, and the Stations of the Cross were being read in Italian. Saturday, Pat was back from Napoli and the three of us decided it was time to see the Vatican Museum (which includes the Sistine Chapel). It was an awesome place with all kinds of wonders. I'll tell you what, that Michelangelo fellow isn't too bad of an artist. After the Museums, we took a tour of the inside of the Coliseum and almost had a gladiator fight right there, being so filled with the spirit of the games. Then we headed to Circus Maximus where they had the Ben-Hur-esque chariot races, and then to the Mouth of Truth where one is supposed to put one's hand inside and if he or she is a dishonest person, they have their hand eaten. We did not get to put our hands in because it was already closed, but I didn't mind... if I had lost my hand, Pat and Ray would've known about all my secret lies and deceptions (mwahaha). Easter Sunday we did not have tickets to the mass, so we watched some of it from outside and then continued on to the Forum, where we took another tour and got to see and hear about more history. By this time, we were all exhausted, and spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the fine Italian cuisine. That night we had opted not to get a hostel because we had to be at the airport around 4am for our flight back, so we spent the night in the train station, Pat talking to a fun little Italian guy and I trying to sleep on the floor. At around 8pm, I was finally back home in Madrid, where I ate dinner and promptly passed out. In spite of all the minor problems and such, I would still describe Rome in one word: Buonissima!

Phew.

That brings us to last weekend, which included a trip to northern Spain (La Rioja & Pais Vasco). Not nearly as eventful as Rome, the trip was still quite fun. I went on this one with my Spanish class, and one of the first places we stopped was a winery in La Rioja. We got to hear how they make the wine, and at the end, sample some of their best red wine. It was quite delicious, and I ended up buying two bottles of champagne made there to enjoy this coming weekend on my trip to Ibiza and two weeks after when my family comes to visit. After the winery we went to Bilbao where we spent about 5 hours relaxing and then visiting the Guggenheim museum. It was an interesting museum, but I don't really appreciate much of modern and contemporary art, so I only liked about half of the exhibits. Next on the itinerary was San Sebastian, where we took in some dinner, some beach, and some nightlife. The following day we just relaxed, walked around a bit, attended a mass said in Euskera, which is an interesting language that has no known roots, and then hopped on the bus back to Madrid. Overall it was a very laid back weekend, yet very fun and complete with very beautiful cities and very good times with some classmates that I had not known very well until the trip.

This coming weekend, Pat, Jordan, and I will be jetting off for an awesome, relaxing vacation in the Balearic isle of Ibiza, where we will spend most of our time during the day contemplating our navels and doing other such useless activities on the beach or in the spa or in one of the pools of our hotel, and most of our time during the night enjoying the nightlife and club scene, which is rumored to be one of the best in the world. I'm forecasting an expensive but exciting and exhilarating weekend.

This will probably be my last update until the end of the school year. After Ibiza this weekend, we have a week left of classes in which I will be participating in two dance performances and a choir concert, then the following week is finals week and my family comes over to Madrid, where from there we will visit Toledo on our way down to Andalucia and Málaga for a week, then Alicante in Valencia for another, during which my brother and I will take a quick two day trip to Amsterdam. After Alicante, we are driving up to Barcelona for the weekend, then family flies out and I bus over to Madrid where I will fly out to Sweden for a little less than a week. After that, my friend Steve is coming over to London, where I will fly and meet him and we will hop on over to Ireland for about two weeks. After Ireland, I am flying down to Italy for a little less than a week, where plans are undetermined as of yet, but probably will be spending a day or two in Florence or Venice and then training down to Rome to hang out with my friend Sanda who is flying in to participate in an academic program in Italy. Somewhere around the 18th of June, I will fly back to Spain and spend about 30 days walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, an 800km hike from the French border across the north of Spain to the northwest tip. Finally, at the end of the Camino, I will bus back to Madrid where I will catch my flight back to London and back to San Francisco. Hopefully after 30 days straight of walking I will be able to catch some sleep on the flight. Oh, and if you're wondering where I'm getting the money for all this traveling, well... let's just say that's one of the parts that I haven't quite figured out yet. In general, I plan on getting deep in debt, then digging myself out of it next year when I am working two jobs at school (Jesuit Community and Asst. A&E Editor Loyolan). I don't know where I will find internet along the way during this time, and whether I will have time to write updates when I do, so if you don't hear from me until July, rest assured I am having the time of my life and will tell all about it to whoever wants to hear when I get back.

In the meantime, how are all of you? I have gotten internet at home since I sent my last update, so I have been able to more regularly converse with some of you, but due to the time difference I still don't get as much chance as I would like. I hope that all is well with all of you and I miss you a lot. You are all constantly in my thoughts and prayers and I can't wait to get back and hear all about your stories and events during this semester. If you can't wait to tell me about them, send me an email, because I love getting your love notes and stories and am pretty good at responding to all of them.

Until unspecified next time we speak, have a great day and good luck with the end of the semester and the beginning of summer!

Love, Mark

SPAIN UPDATE # 4

Hello all friends and family!

So, if any of you follow the news (or perhaps I should say, as long as none of you live in a cave hundreds of miles away from civilization) you will have noticed a few major occurrences over here in my neck of the woods. First of all, we got bombed. Thankfully, almost all of the students at my school here were out of the country enjoying their spring break, and if not out of the country, at least not in Madrid. The few that were here have been accounted for, and no harm came to anyone involved in my school here or any of their host families, as far as I know. In reaction to circumstances surrounding the bombing (debate rages over what exactly drove people to do this), the Spanish people elected a man named Jose Luis Zapatero of the Spanish socialist party, which has not had a president in the office for many years, if ever. This looks like it will have major changes come with it, as the new president's first order of business is to pull out Spanish troops from Iraq, and disengage himself and the Spanish government from Bush and the American government. There's the summary of goings on as far as I know here.

Now, those of you who know me well know that I do not typically concern myself with politics and such, despite that making me an irresponsible citizen or whatever you'd like to call me. However, being in the midst of the Spanish equivalent of 9/11, and then 3 days later having just about the biggest political change in the country happen since democracy was established 20-30 years ago, it is hard not to follow these sorts of things. Many people have asked me what it is like being over here during such a tumultuous time, if there is any anti-American sentiment, if there are riots, all kinds of things, and I have given them various answers. Here is my take on everything so far.

Because I was in Scotland the day of the attacks (more on that later), I cannot attest to the emotion felt in Madrid. It was somewhat akin to the feeling I had when I saw the September 11 attacks on TV. I felt sympathy, I felt sorrow, and yet, I felt detached. As I continued to watch, and I noticed that this bombing had taken place at the rail station that I had walked through just one week prior, however, the bombings began to affect me a bit more. One thing I did notice, though, was that television and the media here do not leave out any of the gory details. I remember watching the NY attacks and seeing the buildings fall down, people around them running away screaming, and thinking that was horrible. But being here and seeing what they show on the news--people with limbs hanging off, a boy with half of his face melted, and other such grotesqueries--has helped to throw off this detached feeling. Have things changed here since then? Absolutely. Open any newspaper and you'll see articles upon articles about terrorism, the new government, etc. Have these changes affected me? That is a bit more of a blurry answer. While they may become more visible in the coming weeks and months, right now the most visible changes have been some memorials to those who have died, and most visibly, pictures of the ribbon and large signs saying "PAZ" and "No al terrorismo" hanging from apartment windows. It is very akin to what we witnessed in the US after 9/11: the American flag flying half mast everywhere, hanging out of car windows, stickers of it stuck everywhere, etc. The whole scene feels very much surreal, like déja vu in a different language. But as sad, or as desensitized, or as unaffected as it may seem, my life here has gone on with pretty much the same leisure and pace as it did before these momentous occurrences. As per anti-American sentiment, I have not experienced, witnessed, nor heard of anything even remotely similar to what one would call anti-American sentiment. If anything, Spaniards and Americans have more of a bond now, because we are both a people who have experienced and lived through a national tragedy. We have 9/11, Spaniards now have 11 de Marzo. So although it may sound insensitive or what-have-you, I will probably look back on my time here in 10-20 years and be more affected then than I am now, simply because I think living through something historical and seeing the small changes every day in one's daily life makes it more difficult to recognize just how different things might actually be.

Phew. So there are my thoughts. I'd be interested to know how all of this stuff has affected all of you wherever you are, whether this is a big deal or not, etc.

On to the fun stuff!

Spring break took place March 5-14 and consisted, for my friends and me, of Ireland, Scotland, and London. Sweden was supposed to be on that list, but sadly, we missed our flight. But calm down child, I'll get to that.

Friday the 5th we began our journey, taking a 7-hour bus ride at 9am to Barcelona because that is the cheapest place to fly out. If any of you have heard of Ryanair, it is a budget airline that we used for all of our flights during spring break. Ryanair plays quite a role in our epic story. We were planning a leisurely traveling day on Friday until we learned that the airport we were flying out of was actually about an hour and a half by bus outside the city of Barcelona. When we arrived in Barcelona, we were told at the bus station that there was a certain bus we should take to get to the airport, but this bus originated at the other bus station across town. So we took the subway from one station to the other, and when we arrived, we asked where to pick up this bus to the airport. We were promptly told there is no bus; we have to take the train. Umm, ok, how much is that? Half the cost? Sounds good! We take the train they tell us to, only to arrive at the end of the train line and still about an hour away from the airport. After much confusion, asking 5 or 6 people, and finally having a younger gentleman tell is in plain English what we had to do, we took the train and got to the city Reus, where of course the airport is 20 minutes away from the train station. We took a cab and paid another 7 euros apiece to get to the airport, and arrived 30 minutes before our flight, where they told us the flight is already closed. After arguing in a mixture of English and Spanish, they let us on the flight and made us run across the tarmac, only the have us sit in the plane for 20 minutes. We were told later that we had to run because the crew and pilot had decided they wanted to take off early. Silly us, we had not reckoned on that variable! So, after arriving in Barcelona city by bus a full 4 hours before our flight, we still nearly missed because of the unhelpful people at the bus station in Barcelona and the wonderful Ryanair crew who wanted to be prompt and leave early. There was our Barcelona experience. Thank God we weren't there any longer.

That same night, we flew to London, where I had arranged to meet up with a friend who is studying there, Jean Luc Rennault, whom some of you might know. We arrived at the airport at 11pm, and went to take the bus to the city (we were beginning to learn that Ryanair is so cheap precisely because all the airports they fly out of are anywhere from 1-3 hours outside of the city by bus, which costs anywhere from 10-20 euros). Having arrived at Stratford Station at midnight in what we later learned was the worst part of London crime-wise, and having found out that the "tube" (British English for "subway") was closed, we proceeded to walk about 2 miles to the aptly named Mile End where Jean Luc was waiting for us in the only bar that was still open at 1am when we arrived, called The New Globe (those clever Brits). At this point, I was ready to relax, have some laughs with Jean Luc, and toss back a beer or two, but my friends Pat and Jordan were ready to sleep so they would be ready for the early morning the next day. So they wandered off in search of a cheap place to stay for the night, through a place called Whitechapel, which we later learned was where Jack the Ripper went on his notorious killing spree. Meanwhile, I enjoyed my friend's company, a few drinks, and a doner kebab, and made it to bed before my friends did. Funny how life works out. Next morning we flew to Dublin, Ireland and truly began our spring break.

Dublin was nice. We got in around 1pm with no place to stay because one of our group suggested it would be easier just to find a place when we got there. Interestingly enough, that same friend with the suggestion lost his passport in London and thus could not come with us to Ireland. Hmmm... something sounds fishy there. Luckily for us, we stumbled upon a hostel in the middle of the city that had two last minute cancellations and let us stay there for a very cheap price. The gods were smiling upon us. After walking around most of the day, we met up with a friend who also happened to be in Dublin and went looking for a fun pub. What we found was an "international bar" filled with Irishmen, two of whom we made friends with and ended up having a barrel of laughs and brews the rest of the night. Let me tell you all a little secret: all stereotypes of Irishmen are true. These guys were the craziest and friendliest folks I have met in awhile. They joked with us, drank with us, and even fought with each other a bit, in between telling us stories of when one had punched the other in the face and made his nose bleed while they were drunk one time. Good times indeed.

The next day, after touring the Guinness factory, we headed out of the city to experience more of the famed Irish countryside. We arrived in Galway late that night, caught up on sleep, and then walked around the city the following day. What a charming little place. Galway is a little college town about 3 hours away from Dublin by bus, and is not exceptionally famous for anything, so we had no big tourist things to do. It as nice to just be able to walk around and enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere. We walked out to the coast, dipped our feet in the ocean, and had another adventure...

As we walked along the coast, we saw a small isthmus that led out to this big grassy hill stuck out in the ocean, so we, being adventurous and courageous college students, walked out there and ran around and enjoyed the view. We spent a little bit too much time out there, however, and when we began our journey back, we quickly realized that the tide does not stop and start at our convenience: fully 20 yards of our trail was now covered in knee-deep 40 degree Atlantic Ocean water. Taking off our shoes and socks, and putting on our toughest man-faces, we ran/hopped/splashed through the near-freezing water, making certain to utter as many descriptive expletives as possible on the way. Luckily, we all made it, and with no permanent damage to our feetses. It was a darn fun time, and makes for quite a story.

Another night in Galway, where we went to a tavern and listened to some traditional music, then we headed back to Dublin to catch our flight to Glasgow, Scotland. We slept in the airport that night to conserve money, along with about 5 or 6 other backpackers, then took the train into town (another hour-long ride). We got a good cheap hostel and then went out to explore the city that we knew literally nothing about. After finding the tourist office and learning some things to do, we took a tour of the City Council building with a funny little Scottish man who constantly commented on the "lovely ceilin's" and the "genuine (pronounced with a long i sound) mahogany." Afterwards, we strolled around, found a nice fast food but traditional Scottish food place and got some IRN-BRUs, Scottish for Coke, and they tasted similar to Red Bull. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, though it was very interesting being in a country that speaks English and not understanding the language. Yes, the accent is THAT thick.

Next day went off with a few hitches. I had wanted to see some of the Scottish countryside and some castles and such, so we took a bus to a town called Stirling and got to check out Stirling Castle. That was fun, but not as cool as I had hoped, mostly because there weren't real knights and maidens and dragons and kilt-wearing Scotsmen. Yeah okay, so maybe I have a bit of a romanticized view of things. We walked around Stirling for a while, then came back to Glasgow, only to realize that we got back just in time to miss our flight to Sweden. Having a travel companion that is very much the worrying type did not help in this situation, so where I was laid back with the attitude of "Okay, not what I had in mind, and that certainly sucks, but we'll figure something out," Pat, my travel buddy, was more in the mindset of "Everything has gone completely wrong! We're all going to die!!" Meanwhile, this was the same day that when we first woke up we heard about the Madrid bombings, so Pat had been sending text messages to everyone he could think of asking if they were okay, even if he knew they were out of town. Very different personalities, us two, but eventually, we decided to spend one more day in Glasgow and then go back to London and spend a day there, seeing the sights and such. The rest of Glasgow was not bad, but not exactly what I was hoping to see of Scotland. Among the highlights were eating haggis and sipping IRN-BRU in Scotland, and seeing a guy wearing a kilt and talking on a cell phone, so I'm convinced I have experienced Scottish culture. (Editor's note: if you don't know what haggis is, neither did I. I knew it was something disgusting, but I wanted to eat it first and ask questions later. Turns out it is some sort of animal's intestines wrapped in the stomach lining of a sheep. It was a little spicy, but not bad.)

On to London! We had one day to do London, and being pretty much the biggest and arguably coolest city in Europe, that wasn't much time. We arrived about noon and jammed right out to Oxford Square, from which we walked to Trafalgar Square, then to Big Ben and Parliament, then to Westminster, then across the Thames, saw Julia Stiles (American movie star), saw The Eye, the tallest carousel in the world, then walked to Piccadilly Circus, walked down to the original Hard Rock Cafe where I got a t-shirt, then took the tube back to Jean Luc's apartment, where we went out with him and some of his flatmates to some pubs and clubs in east London. We had a much better time on this trip to London than the last, and the next day (Sunday 14th) we woke up early and flew out of London to Barcelona, where we managed to find the right bus back from the airport and then took a first class bus back to Madrid. We arrived back home at 2am and promptly passed out from exhaustion. It was good to be back!

Since then, nothing much of note has happened, except that, as my teachers have pointed out, I am one of the best in both of my dance classes, and will be dancing front and center in the flamenco performance and possibly the Latin dance performance. St. Patty's day here was uneventful, though I did score a free hat at one of the pubs I went to. And this weekend has just been a relaxing, catch-up weekend, but I also managed to book a flight for cheap to Ibiza, and island in the Balearics, and another flight to Sweden after school is out. These next few weeks will be filled with midterms round 2, and then after that, I will have nothing to worry about until finals. This semester is going by so quickly already here, but I still look forward to seeing all of you in the summer or when I go back to school in the fall.

That's all for me! Looking back at this email, I realize I practically wrote a novel, but I think it's kind of interesting, and if you don't, then by all means delete it. Hope this finds you well and email me and let me know how you are doing. I am pretty good with responding to emails as I have finally gotten Internet at home.

Adios, love to all!
Mark

SPAIN UPDATE # 3

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Hello all!

So that title may seem ridiculously random, but listen to this: it's snowing in Madrid right now! How cool is that? Yeah ok, so maybe those of you who live in places where it snows every day from November till March are guffawing at me, but for me, a California boy all my life, to live in a place where it snows is awesome. Especially since the weather in Madrid is so similar to Sacramento weather (where I live) that it's almost as cool as when it snows in Sacramento (which it does maybe once every 5 years, so it's always a cause for celebration). At any rate, I have been meaning to send an email to all my friends and family back home, and this was something I had to share, so it gave me a good opportunity to write to you.

How has everyone's Lenten season started off? Any good resolutions made? Any of those same resolutions broken yet? How about Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday - did anybody do anything exciting for those? Here's how my Lenten experience has gone so far. Last weekend, I skipped my last two classes and Thursday and jetted out (literally, I took a jet) to Bonn Germany to visit my good friend Raymond Crosby, whom some of you know well. There is a German town called Köln (or Cologne for all of us German-challenged) where they have what I hear is a Karnival celebration second only to Rio de Janeiro. Well I don’t know about that, but it was certainly a darned good time. As soon as I arrived at 11pm Thursday night, I was greeted by a wild man in a full body lion costume who gave me a vial of strange tasting liquid to drink, then suited me up in a full body rooster costume and took me out on the town. Unfortunately, we were in the wrong part of the city, and the parties were already dying down a bit. Over the rest of the weekend, I made friends with several other LMU study abroad-ers, as well as a few cute German girls (though sadly, cute German girls are somewhat few and far between), and I saw some of the German cathedrals, as well as the mighty Rhine, in between freezing off the outer epidermal layers of my buttocks and partaking in some fine bratwurst. Overall, the weekend was a blast, though my immune system sadly could not keep up with me, and I have been recovering from a cold since then.

I came back Monday and in place of my normal songbird like voice was a screechy scratchy thing and a wicked cough. Yet I managed to perform my first cantoring at the Ash Wednesday mass, and as far as I could tell, it didn’t sound too bad! Yesterday I finished my last midterm, so I’m good to go for another few months of clowning around and goofing off, and Ray will help me start that when he comes tonight to visit for the weekend. Then next weekend is when the real fun begins. Two SLU friends, Pat and Jordan, will accompany me first by bus to Barcelona, where we will fly out to London, spend a night there probably partying with Jean Luc, another LMU study abroad-er whom some of you probably know, then fly out to Dublin the next morning, stay in Ireland for a few days, fly to Scotland, stay there a few days, fly to Stockholm Sweden, there for a few days, then back to London, back to Barcelona, and back to Madrid. The entire travel expenses for the trip will be probably only around the $200 mark, which is not bad for so many different places. It's going to be a blast, and I can't wait to party hard, Irish/Scottish/Swedish style.

[For those of you I have talked to often, the following might be repetitive… if you wish, skip it, though be aware you might be missing some of the wonderful storytelling of your dearest friend and humble narrator.]

Before last weekend, days were filled with studying, homework, and other such endeavors, but I still found time to do some fun touristy things. I went with a friend to see El Escorial, which is the burial place of all the kings of Spain. It was ok, but the place was pretty dead when we were there (rim shot). The weekend before that I went with a group of friends to Barcelona, where we saw all kinds of neat things and had a great, albeit exhausting time.

That’s all I have for now, and sadly, in the time that I was writing this, it has stopped snowing. However, the sun has come out as well, so I’m not too sad. Strange weather we’re having indeed… must be that crazy El Niño everyone is talking about. In the meantime, keep sending emails my way, as we finally have internet at my apartment and I can respond to them even faster than before, not to mention I love to hear from all of you. My love to all, and I hope this finds you well!

Con cariño,
Mark

SPAIN UPDATE # 2

Hello friends!

It has been great to hear from many of you and how you are all doing without me. Luckily, it seems most have been able to get on with their lives, and I’m glad to hear it. I have been having a very fun time, most especially over these last few weekends, and now I’ve been catching up on some much needed sleep. Here’s what has been going on since last time I emailed.

The weekend before last (the penultimate weekend, I suppose), I went on my first excursion with my Spanish Culture and Civilization class, and we took a bus Friday morning for 6 hours down to Granada, where we checked into our hotel and then went immediately over to the Royal Chapel, and we got to see the mausoleum, complete with coffins and everything, of Isabel and Fernando, los Reyes Catolicos. Next day we hit la Alhambra, this small town on top a huge hill, and it had all kinds of interesting architecture, fountains, gardens, etc. After lunch, we took the bus for an hour or two to Cordoba, where I went to mass in Spanish at a ginormous church. We walked in right on time at 8pm, and we left after mass at 8:27pm. These Spaniards really know how to pray efficiently. That night I went with some new friends to the Mercado Medieval, which was basically a Renaissance Faire in Spanish. It was very cool, we drank some mead, saw a fire juggler, and witness the forging of a dagger by an actual blacksmith. Next day was filled with more historic sites, including la Mezquita de Cordoba, the famous mosque that has been converted to a church. That place was amazingly huge. I have a feeling we did not make a great impression, as our tour guide was speaking very loudly throughout the tour, despite the many "Por favor, mantenganse silencio [Please keep quiet]" signs. Oh well, we didn’t stay long. Then we came back home and I slept the rest of the night.

In between weekends, we had another week of school, which was fairly uneventful.

The following weekend (this last one) was fun-filled. Thursday, I went to the Casa de Cerveza (even you non-Spanish speakers can probably translate that) with some friends, and then made my way home around 2, which is early for Madrid. However, after getting lost several times, and being propositioned by about 10 different prostitutes, in Spanish (to the tune of "¿Quieres ***** conmigo?" "No gracias" "¿Por que no gracias?" etc), I finally took a cab home for about 3€. The next day was spent resting up for that evening, when I went with about 30 people from my Latin Rhythms dance class to a club that looked like something out of the 70s, very Scarface-esque. We danced merengue, and did the cha-cha, and tried to be stars while Tony tended bar (obscure musical reference). It was a wild and fun night, but very crowded and very hot. I finally made it home around 4am, which is still early for Spain. Saturday was spent hiking, which was fun but not as long or rigorous a hike as I had hoped, as we did not even make it to the top of the mountain. Then Sunday was spent shopping, churching, and finally, heading down to the Hard Rock Cafe at about midnight for the big game. Five friends and I, as well as about half of the Americans in Madrid were in attendance, as I celebrated my first Super Bowl Monday. It was a rousing good time, but made for a tough Monday morning, as the game did not even till 4:30am here, and of course we stayed the whole time and had to walk 45 minutes home as the subway closes at 1:30. And yet, it’s still early for Spain. I have yet to stay out until a time that is generally considered "late" here.

Overall, very good times going on so far. I have yet to see a football (read: soccer) game here, but I’ve heard they’re awesome. Travel plans are slow going, partly because I am trying to conserve funds to backpack through Europe after school is out. I finally booked the cheapest flight I found (240€) to visit Ray for Karnival in Cologne, Germany Feb 19-23. Should be a wild time, especially with the Raymonster.

In the meantime, keep sending those emails, as I love to hear from all of you, and I will send out another email soon with more pictures! Hope everyone is doing well, and you are all constantly in my thoughts are prayers.

Love, Mark

SPAIN UPDATE # 1

Hello Friends, Americans, Countrymen!

I hope all are well in your respective places of work, school, or whatever else you might be doing. I am well indeed, and loving it here in Madrid. I have done much tripping already, such as a day trip to Segovia, a town north of Madrid containing a 2000 year old aqueduct, another to the Guadarrama mountain range, where we hiked to the top of the mountain called Guarremillas, or the bowl of the world (bola del mundo), and my short excursion to the royal palace, plus other random places in and around Madrid. I have to go for now, but more coming soon!

Con mucho gusto,
Mark
Subscribe  RSS:   E-mail:  

Blogger Templates by Blog Forum