Archive | August, 2011

¡Estoy una hija!

30 Aug

Patience is a virtue, right? I am waiting now, at 3 in the afternoon, for lunch after two small pieces of toast, orange juice and a gritty cup of nescafé coffee for breakfast. In the meantime, I have gone to class, taken a test, caught up on emails, cleaned my room and planned out my weekend… I am hungry or, as I would say in Spanish, ¡Tengo hambre!

My American body has not quite adjusted to the Spanish schedule yet. Although I am loving Spain, their meals and general life schedule are throwing me for a loop. On top of lingering jet lag, I hope this will soon pass. For breakfast, which is served every morning between the hours of 8 and 10 am, I am given the choice of toast or cereal with coffee. At 2 or 3 pm we eat lunch, which is, far and away the largest and best meal of the day. After three hours of intensive Spanish class, I look forward to this meal more than anything else (including my daily siesta.) Due to a late lunch, Spaniards do not eat dinner until 9 or 10 pm when their appetites return after the sun retreats along with its appetite stealing rays.

I feel extremely blessed in that my señora can cook like nobodies business. She always asks me, “¿Te gustas?” And I reply, as politely as I can with a mouthful of food, “¡Sí, me encanta!” With this said, I am embarrassed to admit that I am given an extra plate of food during every meal. It generally consists of leftovers from the day previous, such as warmed up vegetables, soup or half a pizza. I know my señora means no harm and is only ensuring I don’t go hungry, but it is difficult not to get offended when a single hot dog is staring blankly at you on a white ceramic plate while the rest of the family serves themselves another portion of salad.

I live with one señora named Maria, her daughter, named Maria, and their dog, named Lola. Although I completely refrain from using “Maria” to avoid any confusion I simply cannot explain in Spanish, one of my favorite things to say is, “¡Hola, Lola! ¡Hola, Lola!” …I’m good at that. Lola is the scruffiest dog I have ever seen, a mutt to say the least, but she has the sweetest heart despite her potential fleas and persistent begging. Either way, I love her most of all because she serves as a scapegoat during those awkward moments when I have run out of things to say in Spanish or am trying to divert attention from the awkward American girl who can only mutter when she likes food.

Lola - The scruffiest dog in the world.

My suspicion of Lola’s fleas increased after three days in my homestay when, while doing homework in my room, a tiny, brown bug came crawling up my wall. Per instinct, I smashed it with a piece of paper and realized that the germinating bites on my legs could be multiplying due to this little monster. Every morning I would awake to find more bites in more places, it started near my ankles; rose to my kneecaps, then my thighs and when they reached my stomach I could have no more. As a source of procrastination from homework, I began to research fleas and bed bugs. Despite my skepticism, fleas can live on humans. As I researched how people get them and how to get rid of them the webpage read, “Nothing is more embarrassing than when you’re out with friends and a flea crawls down your arm.” Awesome. It is such a good thing that I am not at an impressionable stage with my new family, friends and classmates. They’ll be understanding, I’m sure.

Trying to tell myself that I am far too clean for fleas, I began to research bedbugs. With each click of the mouse, it became more apparent that I did, indeed, have bed bugs. The bites looked like mine, they only appear in the morning and itch to no end. Homework had to wait. I stripped my bed in search of evidence, bugs or their shells (yes, they shed as the grow, disgusting, I know) and found what I believed to be small, tiny, grey shells. I stopped researching, held back tears and got in the shower at 2 a.m. We’ve been told to only take ten minutes showers as Sevillians are very conservative with energy and water, I swiftly heaved this rule out the window as I prayed that my señora would not awake to my thirty-minute attempt to scrub off my skin.

Once I felt sufficiently clean and a bit less itchy, I grabbed my computer and snuck out to the living room to complete my homework by a backlit word document. I decided to sleep on the couch for a few hours where I knew no bed bugs would attack. The best two hours of sleep I received all night. To avoid insulting my señora by sleeping on the couch,I awoke to my alarm at 6 a.m. and trodded back to my bedroom in order to sleep the rest of the night in my bed. As I stood in my hot, humid room staring at the white mattress pad, I prepped myself.

“It’s ok, you’ve slept here for the past three nights. The worse they can do is bite you a few times more, plus the bites only itch.  You’ll wake up in a few hours, everything will be okay.”

Until you have been forced to do so, there are no words to describe the anxiety that comes with lying down on a bed that has bed bugs. I put one knee on the bed with the other soon to follow and sat in the prayer position while I lifted my pillow once, twice, thrice, four times to ensure no bugs were crawling around my head. I lowered my torso and curled up in the fetal position thinking logistically that if I take up less space in the bed, it will be harder for them to find me (and yes, I ignored the fact that they attracted to a mammal’s heat and blood by their strong sense of smell). I placed my head on my pillow and conclusively shot back out of bed. I was sweating. I could not, for the life of me; sleep in a bed that I was 99.9% sure was full of little brown parasites! Parasites! I went back to the couch and slept lightly until I heard my señora wake up. Sneaking back to my room in hopes that she did not see me slumbering on her nicest couch, I dreaded the conversation in which I told her that I had bed bugs.

Google Translator: Bed bugs = Chinchas de Cama. Deep breath, here we go! “Me preocupa que tengo chinchas de cama.” (I am worried that I have bed bugs.) And with that, an explosive “¡Aye! No, no, no! No es posible! Son mosquitoes, mosquitoes,  sí, sí! No chichas! No, no!” She then went on to tell me that mosquitoes prefer white, pale skin, so they are drawn to me and since we sleep with windows open to keep cool, I get bit at night. Double win! After an embarrassing and potentially offensive conversation to my señora and her home, I left for school feeling exhausted and humiliated.

The good news is, I was wrong! And despite my stubborn ways, I am happy to admit this incorrect assumption. My señora gave me a plug-in with mosquito repellant to place underneath my window at night and since then, I have not been bit. This also provides me with more motivation to obtain a deep and lasting tan as I do not want to deal with those mosquitoe bites for the rest of the semester.

Chinchas false alarm aside, I have the best homestay family one could ask for. They have a good sense of humor (at least, I presume they do as they laugh often after seemingly quick, witty banter that my Spanish skills are rusty to understand), are extremely nice, can cook, have a dog and don’t mind that I smile and nod to most of their questions or comments.

After dinner the other night, I thanked my señora and was walking to bed when I heard her say, “Hasta mañana, hija.” (See you in the morning, daughter.) Before getting too excited, I reminded myself that I have misunderstood many things before and that my below Spanish par ears probably heard wrong. To my surprise, the very next night, she wished me the same adieu, I was glowing, thrilled with the thought that she would consider me one of her own. Maybe this is typical of homestays, I don’t know, but I am delighted.

Maybe she doesn’t think I’m crazy after all.

In the meantime, here are some more pictures of Sevilla to get your mind off of chinchas.

I have a thing for pigeons.

Catedral de Santa María de la Sede

A post on the Cathedral will be soon to follow! 🙂


¡Orientation, Tapas y Flamenco!

23 Aug

Orientation – no one likes it; no one ever has and no one ever will. It is perpetually filled with boring information sessions, too many people that you don’t really want to talk to, bad coffee and those obnoxiously bright matching t-shirts that a few “leaders” wear to make sure you don’t get lost as they herd you around like cattle. As I get older, I think, “Well this is probably the last orientation I will ever have to endure because I am almost out of college, mature and can find my way around for myself,” but no. Orientations seem to sneak up on you out of nowhere, for school, for work, for volunteering, for attending a cooking workshop that might have one kind of spatula in one drawer and a spatula of a completely different variety in the other with countless knives, mixing bowls and cutting boards in an array of cupboards, shelves and drawers!

So, while I firmly believe all of this to be true, my first few days in Sevilla were spent at an orientation and although it did generally consist of these symptoms, there were some highlights that I must share with you.

A walk around the city, even during orientation, is wonderful in Sevilla and that is how we spent the first half of our very first, full day in Spain. Our leader (who was wearing a bright, cobalt blue t-shirt with the name of our program, CIEE, in large letters on the front) was the best guide anyone could have asked for. A walk in 100 plus degree temperature made for a sleepy, impatient crew of students but our blue t-shirt lead the way with confidence and extremely helpful tips for getting around Sevilla. I am forever grateful, Santi.

We ended the walk with lunch at a quaint bar and restaurant. Sitting outdoors at a few round tables lazily dragged together to attempt camaraderie, trying not to touch each other or any part of our own bodies at the expense of unnecessary body heat and the consequential sweating that would follow, we were served cold beer and tapas. Aye, tapas! A Spanish specialty, tapas are small dishes of food served to two or more people to eat, share and enjoy. Like family style, but with smaller portions and rich flavors – so European family style! The origin of tapas, according to the Joy of Cooking, began when sherry drinkers in Andalusia would cover their sweet drinks with slices of bread or meat to fend off fruit flies between sips. Bartenders capitalized on this genius idea and started to serve tasty little treats with sherry. Tapas have obviously evolved since then, but I cannot help but be thankful for those dreadful little insects that just happened to annoy those men many, many years ago. It may have cost them their lives, but I think it was worth it.

I unfortunately, cannot recall the names of the dishes we enjoyed on that first day due to the insufferable jet lag I was enduring but they were amazing. Olives, a main ingredient in Sevilla, was served solo and in many of the tapas we tried. One dish, made of olive oil, olives and mushrooms, a seemingly simple dish, was the perfect combination of savory, distinct flavors and fresh vegetables for a surprisingly filling meal. Tuna is also an ingredient found in many tapas and I find it to be much more agreeable to my taste buds than the 98 cent cans I usually buy at home, this is probably due to its freshness considering the fact that Sevilla is wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Tapas de España

After a few of the tedious information sessions held in our hotel, our group went out to dinner for tapas again! If you couldn’t tell, the Spaniards are very proud of their traditional dishes (tapas being one of the most loved) and it is apparent, after only a few days here, that food is extremely important to their culture. I believe I have already jumped on that bandwagon. A few delicious dishes later, we had the opportunity to attend a traditional Flamenco show. As we waited outside in the undying heat at 10 p.m., we watched as the first audience walked out with beads of sweat dripping off their foreheads as though each natural wrinkle was a singular rain gutter but somehow, through the transparent lack of air conditioning, smiles glowed on each of their faces. “It will be worth it,” I thought, and it was.

An intimate setting consisted of sixty or seventy fold-up chairs surrounding a spotlighted, twenty by twenty raised wooden platform in the middle of a high-ceilinged courtyard. The audience settled in slowly, moving and scooching their black Ikea chairs around the marble pillars to ensure a satisfactory viewing point. Two performers took stage and the crowd grew quiet. The man began to play his acoustic guitar, a peaceful and slow melody, which the woman soon accompanied. A forte and splendidly vibrato voice filled the air and tingles ran down my spine. I did not know any one could sing so emphatically, piercing my eardrums while simultaneously sounding like a Latina angel. After a song or two, the performers took their position off the wooden platform and a tall, skinny man dressed in a brown suede suit steals the spotlight. The music begins and the dancer stomps his hard bottom shoes on the wooden platform, the sound echoes throughout the room, and the dance commences. His feet moved quicker than humanly possible, assisting with the beat and resonance of the song. A combination of ballet and salsa kept the man in a straight line, strength and endurance allowed for the provocative swinging of the hips, arms and legs; he was joined by a female dancer and the sultry dance continued. Never once did the two touch but their evident passion, pride and lust provided for a sneaking romantic suspicion, to say the least.

Entranced by both performers, the show was over as quickly as the stomp of a flamenco dancer’s foot and I was left sitting in awe. From the expression on each of their proud faces to the strict, sultry maneuvers, dedication, zeal and desire for flamenco was unmistakable in both.

Searching for words to describe my astonishment with friends after the show, I could only describe it as Riverdancing but Latin style! (I am Irish, remember?) Latinos can move their hips, stomachs, arms, legs, hands, chest… well you get the picture, while the Irish may be a bit slower in that department. Not to trivialize river dancers talents, hard work and dedication; I am amazed at their frolic dance but flamenco is something else, something almost indescribable. It is mesmerizing, it is sexy, it is rich, flamenco is the best tasting orange chocolate ice cream cone you have ever tasted in your life.

Needless to say, I did not notice the sweat gushing off my personal rain gutters as I walked out of the theatre.


21 Aug

In all my travels (which aren’t much) I have realized that apprehension and anxiety fill my last few days at home. I must do everything, see everyone, pack, relax, enjoy home and the company that comes with it only to find that a stressful and overwhelmingly emotional goodbye invariably sends me on my way. As I walked away from farewell, a blurred vision saw that my feet kept moving, step by step to get on the plane that would take me to Sevilla (well, actually Chicago, then Madrid, then Sevilla but you get the point.) A plane, where I sit, for a long time, reminiscing about the people I’ll miss while I’m gone and whether or not it is worth it. Why am I doing this? Where am I going? I don’t know the language, it’s simple, that’s it I’m crazy, insane really. A masochist to say the least.

Travel is like religion. I kept moving forward because I have faith. Somehow, through the unknown, you know that this will be good for you, that no matter what emotional roller coasters, language barriers and potential dangers lie ahead, you will come out on top, a better person in the end.

After a good 19 hours of travel (without a trip through customs, and I’m still not sure how we got away with skipping that seemingly important step) I lugged my duffel bag that can only be described as a 44 pound navy green mass, that was under the weight limit for a checked bag but at the cost of the little remaining integrity I had left, what seemed to be at least ten miles. All the way out of the airport, down the street (which just happened to be lined with palm trees), around the corner to the bus that would take me to my nirvana; my hotel bed.

Following a five hour nap, which I know is against all jet-lag rules, I woke up to a three-course meal (thank you CIEE!), which consisted of a lot of beets. I secretly wondered if an Españole Dwight Schrute was the manager of our hotel. Still feeling disoriented, I woke up a bit when our orientation leaders took us out. Walking through the streets on that first night was surreal. Gorgeous, so say the least. We went to a bar with 1  euro cervezas and shots! Sí, por favor! The Sevillianos know how to “go out,” even if the cerveza did taste equivalent to a Hamms.

I called it a quiet night after one drink and walked around the city con mis amigos. It was at least 85 degrees at midnight. Amazing. Under the indigo sky, Sevilla seems to glow with heat and romance. Each bridge, street and building is unique in its own Spanish accent, colored with bright yellows, blues and greens. As I gawked at the architecture and attempted to stroke the velvety air encompassing me, I felt like I was dreaming.

We walked down by the river, which runs through the city center admiring tall, important-looking buildings and muchas palm trees. As I sat on the edge of Rio Guadalquivir on the warmest summer night I have ever experienced, watching large fish beneath my dangling feet and small city lights bounce off the peaceful ripples of river water, I realized, I am in Sevilla!