Melting Pot is the real deal

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You can experience some things only when you are living in a foreign country and want to mix with the locals as much as you can, embracing their culture and lifestyle.

As I said before, at present I work for the International Relations Office at Universidad CEU – what better place to know new people from other countries and practice other languages? I never thought my meals were part of that process too. We get lunch tickets from the CEU to go eat at a nearby restaurant and man…they are good!

I tried pretty much everything typically “Valencian” they had to offer, the main courses – and my personal favorite – being the local paella, the arroz al horno and the arroz à banda. Yesterday it was the paella turn and I was super happy: the cook there manages to make it super tasty and at the same time not hard to digest – I need to go back to work afterwards after all.

So I was there, enjoying my incredible plate of rice, spices, meat and vegetables, talking to my friends. Ah, before I forgot to say that I always have lunch with a trio of coworkers: a Brazilian girl now living in Portugal but currently working for a few months in Spain, a Croatian girl in the same situation and – last but not least – a German girl on an internship here as well. We were eating and talking about how working here is so good compared to what we had at home and so on and so forth, laughing around until our plates were so clean they shone.

Our usual waiter wasn’t there, but I his place a super nice guy of sixty-something we only saw a couple of times and thought was the owner came to collect our plates. Before he left our table I told him that his paella me encanta and if you could give my best to the cook. His eyes started shining, he asked me if I was serious and, when I said yes, he left.

He came back in a couple of minutes, only to ask me where I come from. “Italy” I said, then I told him the places the other girls were from. They he said:

“So, you are a girl from Italy, working in Spain and living the paella Valenciana?”

“Yes, that’s a nice summary,” I answered him, before explaining how I tried other paellas in Barcelona and Sevilla but that those were really different – different spices, different ingredients…different everything.

“True, but you wanna know who cooked it? I did! And you wanna know the best part? You are Italian and you love a Spanish dish cooked by a French man! You know we were on vacation last week? I went back to my family and I had to cook at a local faire a giant pan of paella, as I do every year.”

He started laughing, then he explained us that he was born in France, but has moved to Spain almost fifty years ago, and that he had been a cook his entire life. In France he only has a few relatives, who always asked him to cook his famous paella at the local faire, in one of those giant pans.

We kept laughing and talking and it was all so nice…what is the true meaning of living in a European Union? I think it’s to have moments like this, with people exchanging experiences and different cultures melting in a giant pot, without the slightest hint of racism or presumption of being better than the others.

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A coffee with a view

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My life in Valencia has been quite strange these past three months. I mean, the people here is quite different from what I’m used to at home: I’m from the north of Italy and we are not as open as those I met here. But there is a fine line between being open and being hilarious. I should tell a bit of a back story before telling this story though, or it would not be totally clear.

I am also a translator and, at present, I am working on translating a book from Italian into English. Sometimes – especially during Summer – it’s a bit hard to work at home, thinking about all the things other people are doing to enjoy their weekend [I translate mainly during the weekends, since the other days I work at the University], so I usually go to Starbucks, buy myself a huge cup of Matcha Green Tea or Americano and sit at a table to write. I can isolate myself good enough, other people talking don’t bother me.

So, during my stay here in Valencia I have chosen my Starbucks and have spent my Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays sitting at my usual table…with the same two guys sitting right at the table in front of me. These two friends were living in this beautiful Spanish city to write the dissertation for their PhD and, like myself, preferred to work outside their apartment. We haven’t really talked, just exchanged pleasantries above our cups of coffee like “everything ok?” or “have a nice day”. Good neighbors talk. That was until yesterday.

This Sunday we were sitting at our usual spots, drinking our usual drinks, when a group of young and careless/wild girls stormed the place. They were five-ish teenagers with their eyes full of laughter and their hearts light as feathers. I was working already, with my earplugs in and my head wrapped around how to translate a particularly difficult paragraph, when someone bumped against my table, laughed a “Sorry!” in my direction, and then went to the table opposite to mine. The guys were talking to each other and were totally unprepared when the girls “attacked” them in formation, like a perfectly trained pack of wolves led by their leader.

Said “leader” was a petite girl who had the energy of a dozen people compressed in her tiny body, always on the brink of exploding, like a soda can that has been shaken and is about to come out frizzing once you open it. She started talking to the first of them, the one with dark hair and a military cut, who was much more concentrated on his task, always typing and almost never chatting. His friend, on the other hand, had the air of a Californian surfer – wavy blond hair included – and enjoyed himself in the occasional smile and chat with a passing girl, far less worried about the progress of his dissertation. At least, that’s what he told me. But back to the little wolves. The Alpha approached the dark-haired guy accompanied by her two Betas, while the others started circling Blondie, resembling more some piranhas that had caught a whiff of blood in the water.

Alpha led her attack at full speed, she was taking Spanglish so quickly I couldn’t even understand what she was saying, I just saw the pleading look on Dark’s face. He tried to tell them in a shaky spanish that he was english and had some difficulty in understanding her, but she just kept blabbing at full throttle until she told him: “let’s take a selfie!”. He was so shocked he didn’t even move or smile when they started to click on their I-phones and snapping enough photos to fill a portfolio. He tried muttering something about the work he had to do, but they had already moved to their next prey: Blondie was ready for the ripe. Alpha joined her pack and led the assault on him, but she had met her match and she had to sweat more to get what she wanted: his name to add him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and a bunch of others social medias I did not even realized existed.

He could put up a good defence formation, but eventually from his castle he had to raise the white flag, allowed her to snap her pics and even gave her his Instagram and Facebook accounts. Dark couldn’t stop from smirking at this capitulation and I with him: Blondie had been way too confident and could never have suspected how good these girls are at what they do. But they weren’t done yet. The Alpha followed Dark and Blondie’s gazes – we were in a sort of eye-to-eye conversation made of laughs and dumbstruck nods – and she saw me. Her eyes turned to slits and she started to shashay towards me, ccompanied by her pack.

She started with “You’re so pretty!”, moving on to “what are you doing here”…all in Spanish. She did not extend to me the same courtesy she gave the guys, but talked at full speed in her mother tongue, not expecting I was fluent and it wasn’t a problem. When I answered her, she gave me a startled look, before reconsidering her tactic and moving on to more juicy subjects: the guys. She asked me who I was “pursuing” – none of them – and if we had talked a lot and she went on and on at such a speed that my head started turning… until she said “Back off, the one with the dark hair is mine”.

Her eyes were pure steel, not matching her young ge at all, and I have to admit I was sort of startled by the change. I laughed at this, but then she handed me a card, with a name on it and she started telling me the story of her life, of her estranged father and the siblings she had – same father but different mothers – until she asked me:

“Do you know who he is?” I didn’t. “He is the owner of a lot of bars and discos in Ibiza so I’m giving you a friendly advice: don’t go to the island. Never.”

I was sort of chilled to the bones by the serious note on her voice, but didn’t have the time to answer to that no-so-veiled threat, because she stormed out of the coffee place with her friends – they had plans to go to a party at the beach. Still baffled at the experience, I looked at the guys, they looked at me – they heard everything and their eyes were silently asking me what did I do to anger that little mobster – I shrugged and then we laughed. We laughed and laughed…but in the back of my mind that manacing line and the stare that accompanied it stayed with me.

A regular day at the office.

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Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder(ella) from the future is ready to kick some serious ass with her cyborg foot!

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3.5 Stars

“Cinder” is the first book of “The Lunar Chronicles” by Marissa Meyer, a series in which the main characters of the Grimm fairy tales are transported into a futuristic and dystopian world, so it’s quite safe to say that their lives and stories are seriously changed. But before sharing my thoughts about this book, a small synopsis is due.

 

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

When I was a child I did not like fairy tales, not a chance: the girl who always need a guy to save her? And please…give me a break! When a girl needs something there’s always a Prince Charming just passing by? I started this book thinking “what the hell, maybe I’ll change my mind…never begin with prejudice!”

After a day and a half (that’s how much it took me to read the book, so that’s a point in his favor) the time to rate it has arrived and I did not know what to do. I enjoyed it no doubt, even if some aspects did not convince me completely.
Anyway, the book is gripping and proceeds at a nice pace, so that the reader wants to finish chapter after chapter. And I’m not saying that all I wanted to know was if she was going to the ball…actually at the end of the day it wasn’t even that much important.

I appreciated this version of “jeez I lost my shoe” running away from the prince…even though the lack of one foot per se was a bit meh. Liked the differences between the stepsister: they did not have to be both bitches…the stepmother covers the territory pretty well on her own (and with the assistance of one of them). Liked also the “pumpkin carriage” nice touch having the car with the orange painting. Cinder as a character is well based, we’ll see how she develops her potential in the following books. Kai? Still have to decide. He is not a moron and that’s good, but he’s a bit shallow sometimes.

All in all, before passing a more certain judgment, I think I’ll have to read the whole series, to better understand if all the threads are brought together in a satisfactory way in the end.
I did not change my view on fairy tales, but I appreciated this less edulcorate version, hence the 3.5 stars.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (Shades of Magic #1) – 4 stars

There are different types of grief and different layers of guilt. They hide inside a person, who wear them as if they were undergarments, always to be hidden with "clothes" of respectability and smiles and brave faces.

I got entangled in this book right from the start: if you give me some magic, a shady place and a shady protagonist who doesn’t actually know who he is (he had been stripped of his memory when he was 5), I’m like a kid at Disneyland.

But first bit of a backstory:

Kell is one of the last travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city, he is an Antari with magic linked to his blood, a man made of both balance and chaos.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, the ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London—yeah, there are three of them: Red, Grey and White London(s), and once upon a time, there was Black London, but no one speaks of that now. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see.
This is a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty pirating aspirations.
First she robs him, then she saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to take her with him to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Character variety: I love “my” characters to have a variety of people inside them. I know, I’m a bit of a weirdo, but give me a torn and messed up protagonist, whose actions seem to belong to different version of himself and I’ll be a happy reader.

Many London(s) and a K.L. is a traveler, a red royal (he was adopted at five by red royalty) and a smuggler? Yes!
And his coat?
“The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.”

I found both the protagonist(s) and the world they move in interesting: V. E. Schwab took her time in actually starting the proper action because she wanted the background and all the characters to be clear to the reader, but I did not find those pages dull or tiresome. They gave me the tools I needed to better understand the story, that will continue in the next two chapters of the trilogy, "A Gathering of Shadows" and "A Conjuring of Light".
A hint to those interested: the books ends with a pretty good cliffhanger – and I appreciated it for sure.

Book review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

“What’s the use of running, if we are on the wrong road.”

― S. Jae-Jones, WINTERSONG

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2.5 Stars

Before sharing a few of my personal thoughts on this book, just a little bit of backstory about the book.

Set in 19th-century Bavaria, Jae-Jones’s debut tells the tale of 18-year-old Liesl Vogler, an innkeeper’s daughter who dreams of being a famous composer but is resigned to a life of minding her siblings and helping her mother run the family business. All her life Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King, and they have enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now she is eighteen, and It is the last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride… When her sister is taken by the King, she must journey to the Underground to save her—and soon face an impossible decision.

I won’t give any spoiler, I’ll just go with a stream of consciousness even though I know it won’t be popular:

🥀I liked the goblins and the folklore, the author brought up some old legends regarding the Goblin King and a part of the Underground that’s not explored by many;

🥀On the other hand…Liesl, the protagonist? I hated her. She is whiny and never stops complaining. Maybe if she had been more assertive and not waited until more than 2/3 of the book to stop whining, I might have been more sympathetic;

🥀The Goblin King was a character with potential. Even though I think the author waited a bit too much to explore his nuances, I found him interesting—certainly more so that Liesl;

🥀I don’t mind the use of old English and German, it fits with the atmosphere and the tale…so that’s a plus;

🥀Music and the passion/obsession with the different instruments and compositions a “lover” can use to voice the feelings bottled inside are—in my opinion—the real protagonists of the book. Liesl, the Goblin King, Josef and the rest of her family sometimes feel more like means to convey the central importance of Music in everything and everyone.

All things considered, I cannot say this book is either good or bad, to me it remains in a sort of gray area in between: I can’t say I really liked or enjoyed it, but I didn’t hate it…it just didn’t leave a particular mark. The writing is good, the atmosphere is there, the poetic quality of the language too…but…I wasn’t really enthralled or swept away by it.

Now I’ll just have to ead the second book in the series – SHADOWSONG –  and hope it can shed some light to this whole business.

Life is a constant flow of changes

It has been a while since my last post on the blog and I can’t say how much I regret the long interval between my “London Adventure” and this scruffy little post here. There has been so much going on with my life that I had to put everything sort of on hold but not anymore.

Today I’m posting from the Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera in Valencia, where I am working as an intern in the International Relations Office. Since those days I spent in the city of Sherlock Holmes, I quit my work – as a journalist – and I embarked in a new adventure abroad: my personal Spanish Reconquista.

Last time I lived in Spain [in Granada to be precise, a beautiful jewel in the enchanting Andalusia] I was an Erasmus student and I was in the middle of my Bachelor’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Cultures for Publishing. The last thing I remember about that year – 2012 – are 48 amazing and crazy hours I spent with some friends at the Carnival in Cadiz, then I know the next day I was going to the University to start the second semester…but I never got there. I had an accident and from there on things took a completely different turn from the course I had so diligently planned for years.

But enough about that, the main topic is the Reconquista and I am no whiner. This year I stumbled across a great opportunity of working abroad and I decided to take it, also because I needed a change, I wanted a change both in pace and in surroundings. So I embarked on this journey to the land of Don Quijote, chasing my own personal windmills, and found so much more.

The first apartment I lived in was located in the barrio of Malvarrosa and I had to admit things didn’t go well. My roommate had a nasty experience with some “hungry” bedbugs, so we decided to move. It took me a while to find another place, but my current living situation is such an improvement that the wait had been totally worth it: my apartment in La Petxina is great and the neighborhood is beautiful – and really close to the city center, I can just walk to the Ciutat Vella in no time.

As for the work…that’s an entirely different topic. The most notable thing to point out is that the office I’m working right now is great, you can breathe an air of cooperation and fun in this environment that no matter how tiresome the chores are, you find the willingness to do them. The job is challenging: I have to work with Incoming International students and they often miss the chance to be prepared when it comes to the documents they have to present or the questions and forms they need to fill or the deadlines they must meet…but they are young, they are still studying and they have time to learn how to do things right.

Ah, I almost forgot…in the middle of all this I am also translating another book written by one of my authors, but that’s the topic for another post, so…

TO BE CONTINUED…

London Calling – Day 6

18th of March

This Saturday has been a busy day, a busy day indeed.

It started early, before dawn to be precise, because when you are staying at a hostel—the Wombat’s Hostel is a really good place by the way, providing the customers with all they need, from the clean sheet and towels and bathrooms to a nice kitchen where they can cook and store their food—you never know who your next roommates will be…and sometimes you can be luckier than others. The first few days I had been really lucky [although maybe I realized it only too late] and the girls with whom I shared my “quarters” were pretty easy to live with whereas their “replacements”…let’s just say they probably weren’t much used to respect other people and their schedule. You wanna stay out at night? That’s fine by me, but if you come back at 3 or 4 am, at least try not to light up the whole room or not to make the noise that could wake a bear from hibernation. Apart from these small and inconsequential problems, I had a solid plan for the day ahead and it implied some great things: the Globe and Westminster Abbey.

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Shakespeare’s Globe

I started with Shakespeare’s Globe, visiting both the exhibition and the theatre itself, accompanied by a skilled and entertaining guide. The exhibition is easy to follow, with panels that tell the visitor the story he/she may not know yet: who went to the watch the plays, the financiers, the actors, the writer, some costumes are on display as well, to help you better enter the atmosphere. The theatre is really worth seeing, and not only because it has been built as a reproduction of the original home of the Bard, but also because of its quirks and special history. Seeing the stage also reminded me of “Shakespeare in Love”—I mean the movie, sometimes I have my moments of romanticism too…they are rare, but sometimes they emerge—and the feeling of being in a sort of cocoon, really close to the actors on stage, almost as if you were in the same room made me ache to see a play performed there, so I decided my next journey to London will definitely include one.

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Founded by the pioneering American actor and director Sam Wanamaker—with the help of others, whose names are all written inside—the new Globe had to be built a few feet away from the theatre’s original site, because that one had been occupied by another structure, that could not be destroyed, since it had some historical value too. The builders tried to made an exact replica of the ancient building under any other aspect, based on the sketches they were able to find and the written account still readable, and I have to say they really did an amazing job. After I visited the exhibition Fire! Fire! about the fire of 1666, I felt I could better understand the origin of this place, knowing what burned down its predecessor.

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The structure is made of resisted oak trees and you can see the pillars of wood adjusting in time…the cracks on them state as a symbol of how they are fitting in the space. The guide did a really great job explaining both the history and the present of the building, and as we were sitting on the benches facing the stage, it almost felt like we were waiting for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to begin.

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After this amazing tour, I went to Westminster Abbey and God, what a masterpiece. I was lucky enough not to wait too long before I could enter, the line wasn’t too bad, but when I finally reached the desk where I bought my ticked and they gave me the audioguide…well, I was speechless. Visiting the aisles and hearing Jeremy Irons tell me the story of the stones I could see and touch with my hand was moving and I remained there watching everything, reading everything, hearing everything for a long time. Irons’s voice sounded perfectly in tune with my surroundings, as he told me the story of the nave, the chapels, the apse, the altar, the choir, the Poets’ Corner…it was all truly worth seeing. Outside, I even had a laugh with a couple of policemen while I was trying to take a photo…one of them even photobombed my shot. Really friendly guys.

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After that I had one last visit—according to my plan—and I couldn’t back down, since it was the British Library. What an amazing collection of first prints and original manuscripts are the “Jewels” of this corner of Paradise. Studying there must be truly, madly, awesome.     

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