Sunday, June 30, 2013


And just like that, my fellowship at Banco Santander is at an end.

I had requested an extension of my contract for the summer, but unfortunately the bank's merger with Banesto made it so human resources wasn't super willing to extend anyone's contract. Needless to say, my boss was not super happy about me leaving.

I'll stay in Spain for a few more months to work on my Spanish, I think. But looking back, what exactly did I get out of my ten month fellowship in Spain's great private bank? I wrote a poem during my last week asking that very question.


Como pasa el tiempo
Como tantas hojas en el viento
Pero qué prueba tengo
Para mostrar que ha pasado aquí?

Me van a borrar completamente
No digas lo contrario
Sabes que es la verdad
Y eventualmente borrarán los borradores

Puedo dejar algo?
Una nota tallada debajo del escritorio
Yo estaba aquí
Como si fuera importante

O mejor, que llevo algo para recordar
En lugar de robar bolígrafos o quizás una grapadora
Llevaré lo que me han dado gratuitamente
Lo que he aprendido

I'll take home what I learned at Banco Santander. What I learned about Spain, its people, what I learned from my country research on Chile and Mexico, what I learned about how professionals in other countries view the world, and how it feels to be an outsider struggling to find a way to fit in. I can take home the satisfaction that the economics I learned in grad school is actually useful. I'll take home a greatly expanded way of expressing myself in a tongue that is not my own, as well as a confidence that I can communicate and allow my true personality to come out with people who don't speak mine.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Seen in Madrid #13 - The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra


... playing live in the Plaza of Callao!

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Padres in Spain

After the striking success of my parents' 2011 visit to see me in Italy, they decided to come see me in my new adopted country Spain. (WARNING: more photos than usual, kiddies)

A good trip is like a good five-course meal. You can't just do everything at once. You need to build up and wind down and take your time. I started them off with a light appetizer... Spanish terraces with tapas and drinks.

The primero plato consisted of Madrid's sights and sounds... museums, the royal palace and a really fun night watching a flamenco show. My parents thought the waitress was flirting with me but I think she was just fishing for a tip from notoriously generous Americans.

We had a palate-clearing salad course: a day-trip to Segovia to see its beautiful aqueduct, castle and to eat Cochinillo (which, if we step outside of this metaphor, is definitely a segundo plato/meat plate).

The segundo plato was where we really got into it. We'd warmed up our stomachs and tackled Barcelona. We went to the top of Montjuic, spent some time on the beach, and ate a TON of wonderful food thanks to the recommendations of a colleague of my Dad's.

 For dessert, I bowed out early and went back to Madrid to finish my last week of work. My parents saw some sights to round out a nice full trip.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wedding on the Bosphorus

What do you do if you're getting married, but the bride's family lives in Colombia and the groom's family lives in Turkey and the couple's friends live in California? Why, have multiple weddings.

And what do you do if you live in Madrid? Go to the wedding in Turkey, of course!

I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate the wedding of two college friends, Valentina and Gorkem as they got married a second time in Istanbul, Turkey together with a large contingent of Valentina's Colombian family, almost 200 Turks, and a small contingent of American friends.

The American friends were put up in the Hotel Senatus, a short stroll away from the historic center of Istanbul. I flew in on a Thursday afternoon and arrived just in time to be treated to Turkish Night - a wonderful combination of food, song and dance. 

We danced too.

On Friday and Saturday, I explored the city with the Americans, taking a boat tour of the Bosphorus, visiting the Grand Bazaar and touring the Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent.

Saturday evening, just as protests in Taksim square were starting to heat up again, we threw on our black tie attire and were driven to the wedding site - a beautiful half-restored building on the banks of the Bosphorus.

The wedding ceremony itself was very short. They walked in, signed a document and walked out. Then we went inside for dinner and the party. Turks know how to prioritize.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Emperor Justinian and the Taksim Square Protests

The church that is now the Hagia Sofia was destroyed by fire twice during riots. As the front pages of the world's newspapers were plastered with violent images of the accelerating protests in Instanbul's Taksim Square last week, I wondered whether I'd be present as the protest transformed into a riot and watch as the church was destroyed a third time.

As it turned out, my visit to Istanbul corresponded with a lull in between the initial protests and the final square-clearing done by the government in mid-June. While in Istanbul, however, I did have an opportunity to learn about the Nika riots that caused the last destruction of the Hagia Sofia.

In the 6th century, Istanbul was called Constantinople, and it was the capital of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. Chariot racing was all the rage in the city and a politically powerful system of demes (sports associations) had grown up around the different chariot teams. Imagine a combination of New York's Tammany Hall political machine and Oakland/LA's Raider Nation running around in tunics (is chariot hooligan a term?).

Resentment over high taxes by many and the peception of Justinian's illegitimacy by others increased in tension which came to a head in January of 531. Emperor Justinian had called a chariot race to placate increasing unrest among the city's populace. During the event, the crowd's cheers and jeers became increasingly political and the chariot race devolved into an anti-government riot that beseiged the royal palace and burned much of the city for a week.

How did Justinian react? He sent a popular eunuch to bribe one of the rioting demes, the Blues, and sow discord between them and another faction, the Greens. This divide-and-conquer strategy allowed Justinian to send in imperial troops and kill 30,000 rioters. While ultimately effective for the stability of the empire, one hopes that Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan weren't taking notes on this violent episode of the city's history.

Friday, June 14, 2013


In our last few months at Banco Santander, two co-workers and I have been taking advantage of Madrid's wonderful art offerings. Ana know a lot as has been able to give us a full tour of the Dalí exhibit that's currently featured at the Reina Sofia, while Isael and I have been content to listen, learn and enjoy the beauty of Spanish painting (and sculpture, and all the weird stuff that Dalí got into).

We had a few failed attempts too, but failures quickly turn into success when you walk down the street from the Reina Sofia (closed on Tuesdays, only free between 7pm and 8pm) and grab some beers on an outside terrace in Lavapies.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Youth sans Hope

I'm often asked how bad the unemployment situation in Spain really is - what is life like in an economic crisis? 

I have to say that I can't answer the question very well. I have anecdotal evidence from friends who talk about the difficulties of finding employment and how family members (brothers, cousins, uncles) are moving in because they've lost their jobs. I've noticed the soup kitchen line seems to have gotten longer in the past few months. I'm familiar with the statistics - 27% unemployment and 57% youth unemployment. But the truth is, I live in a world where the majority of my foreign friends are students or teachers and all my Spanish friends work.

However, an experience I had today gave me a bit more insight into what the situation is like. On my way home from work, I stopped to talk to three different NGO canvassers. You know the type - they stop you with a smile, ask if you have a minute and then set out to try to guilt you into donating or paying for a membership for a well-known organization like UNICEF, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Red Cross, etc. Maybe some other day I'll share my opinions on how, although these operations are highly effective, I feel they are exploitative of both the organizations' images and of the idealistic youth who make almost nothing to pretty much beg on the streets.

Anyway, I stopped to talk to each canvasser and learned a little about each over the course of our conversations. Each had not only a degree but a master's degree. Each seemed very well-spoken and intelligent. And each made it clear that they were dirt poor and they had no other opportunity but to do this to make money. In the US, these canvassers are usually idealistic recent college grads and the turnover rate is high as most move on to more permanent forms of employment.

It's unclear what these overqualified young Spaniards can move on to. That lack of hope is both terrifying and sad.