Archive | September, 2011

Keys and Locks

18 Sep

Last night I celebrated the small feat in opening up the gated door to my apartment complex in one easy motion. I realized, in fact, that I had been doing so for the past couple of days and smiled as I walked up the stairs to my new home. This seems like nothing, I know, but talk to any student studying abroad here in Sevilla and they will tell you that the simple task of getting into your apartment complex can be one of the hardest endeavors on the walk home. The lock sticks, the key fits but does not move and when it does shift position, it does so with no prosperity. It is as though the lock takes amusement in watching the silly performance of an awkward clown attempting to get inside and when it gets bored, it simply clicks, opens and allows you to pass. There is no way to say how you have succeeded in entering, you just have and relief wafts over you with the ever-welcoming air conditioning in the foyer.

And so, I consider the fluid motion of entering my building a success.

I also went for my first run in Sevilla the other night. It has been a full month (at the cost of my sanity) since my last run due to the country’s heat and my lack of running shoes. I figured I could simply buy a cheap pair of running shoes here, but alas, to no avail. The women in Spain do not work out, and why would they when the department stores are filled with five-inch stilettos that they wear day in and day out, undoubtedly receiving a difficult calf workout in itself? They wouldn’t and they don’t. I borrowed a pair of running shoes from a friend, and ignored the potentially hazardous fact that they are a full size too small.

I began my run in the emerging twilight of 10 p.m., the same time that the streets begin to cool and all the (male) runners appear. It felt amazing, my lungs crunched in and out as my breaths grew quicker, my heartbeat hastened to the beat of metronome, my veins served a greater purpose and my skin began to glisten (girls don’t sweat) in the 90 degree temperatures of the night. I ran through the city and enjoyed the fast-paced sightseeing of Spaniards eating their nightly tapas alongside a glass of wine and small plate of green olives. Under the dark summer sky, my bones, heart and mind found peace once again.

The streets I run down.

It was when I started to grow tired that I noticed the oncoming glances from afar, the frowns and bewilderment on people’s faces. My side ached as a bus honked at me, to go or to stop I was unsure until finally he waved me on in the quick annoyance of hand gesture. I crossed the street and continued in my alien ways. Through the pain, I realized that I knew, after a good four weeks, a run would not be easy, especially a run in such high temperatures, but I went anyways. I went for the pain, for the gasping of air, for the need of water all with a desire to feel again because it is when we grow stale that we become insipid, flat, flavorless. Without pain one does not appreciate comfort, without sickness one does not appreciate health, without thirst one does not appreciate water.

Even in a new country one can become stagnant.

Just as my first run, my time in Sevilla has not been all butterflies and rainbows. Of course I knew it would be hard at times, not knowing what to do or say, missing my family and loved ones, and bumbling down the street as an American. My precursor to this trip took that all into account, but it is not until you actually endure it that it really matters.

Traveling or simply being seen with 50 American college students puts you in a state of constant glares and shakes of the head. It is difficult to deal with, here we are (at least some of us) attempting to fully emerge ourselves into Spanish culture and the people that take great pride in it all the while being dismissed as loud, stupid Americans. And there are the actions of some that, without a doubt, would be grouped into that stereotype by even my American eyes. Consequently, it is exhausting to try to break away from this image.

Simultaneously, it is not easy to break out of this bubble when you only know a limited amount of Spanish and cannot befriend a local without speaking spanglish (which you hope with all your might that they will accept and/or understand) and keeping the conversation limited to how he or she is, what you are studying in school, why and numerous activities or foods that you like or don’t like. “Me gusta correr y comer. Me gusta queso. No me gusta queso azul.” Granted, I am learning and attempting everyday to grow in my conversational skills but, pray for me, it is hard.

Today I went to open the orange, rusty, gated door to my apartment complex and wiggled my key back and forth. An adorable Spanish family walked up with a stroller carrying a six-month old girl dressed in all pink. They waited as I struggled, fighting with the lock. “Why now?” I thought. “Is there not a better time? When I’m alone, fine, have your way with me! But now??” My non-verbal begging did no good, as I laughed embarrassingly and mumbled, “Lo siento” to the family patiently anticipating the cool foyer ahead. The husband, laughed with me and asked, “¿Necesita ayuda?” (Do you need help?) and I handed over the craft to him, which he took with special care and swiftly opened the door for me and his family. It must be a Spanish thing.

I’ve got a ways to go. Soy Americana.



5 Sep

I bought a pair of stilettos. As a 5’8” girl, this was probably not the most practical purchase and I am usually a pretty practical girl. The problem is, with my height being what it is, I rarely, if ever, wear stilettos so I am not accustomed to balancing on scrawny pegs that act as an aerator when you walk across grass, but that is okay. I will avoid lawns. And I know all women will be with me when I tell you that, they are gorgeous nude peep toe stilettos AND they were on sale. Justified.

I have yet to wear them out, I feel as though we need some quality bonding time before I attempt to trek across Sevilla on cobblestone. Consequently, I have been practicing, here and there, while my host family is out of the house. Don’t make fun; these things take practice… especially when you are as klutzy as me.

Speaking Spanish is like walking in stilettos. It takes a lot of confidence and is very wobbly. At first, you have to break yourself in, only speak in the company of those similar to your speaking level so that when either of you mess up, it is not a problem, you move on, and no one ends up with cherry-colored cheeks. Sooner or later; however, you have communicate in the real world, with real native Spanish speakers. This is when it becomes tricky. You stumble and fall but continually attempt to do so with the slight amount of grace you have left, it might not be much but you have to stand back up somehow.

In talking to my señora my mind often works faster than my mouth, searching for the correct pronoun, conjugation, tense and not to mention, the correct word itself. There is usually at least one look of complete bewilderment as I string Spanish-sounding syllables together, stuttering along the way.

I find that the hardest part in speaking a foreign language is speaking to a human being. It sounds silly, I know but I have always been taught that eye contact is key and when two big eyes are staring expectantly at you while you are simultaneously trying to say, on the spot, that “Seattle is not anywhere near New York, in fact it’s on the other side of the country and my family is not in danger of the approaching hurricane.” (Yes, we watch the news together.) Instead I come up with, “No, Seattle está no cerca de Nueva York.” Seeing as the soul purpose in learning another language is to communicate with people unlike yourself, this is detrimental. I am going to have to stop staring at the ceiling while I contemplate which verb and tense I should be using in this particular sentence. ¡Aye!

I might be wearing my news shoes out tonight, in public. Terrified does not even begin to touch the surface of my new endeavor but the excitement that comes along with it is, to say the least, worth it. It will be difficult. Pray I don’t break my ankle while walking on the gorgeous cobblestone streets of Sevilla that I love and hate so much. Successfully making it to my destination is yet another feat in itself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Maybe I am not a very practical girl after all.


3 Sep

I keep having these, “I’m in Spain” moments. I will be going throughout my day just as any other, worried about my Spanish test or how I’m going to fit my siesta in during this unforeseen busy week when, in the midst of my walk home it hits me, “Oh yeah, I’m in Spain.” It is as though this surreal vision of my Spanish life comes crashing down as I stare at the largest gothic cathedral in the world, admire the tiny tiles that line the walls of Casa Pilato, feel the mist of one of the many monumental fountains or float in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in my life: this is my obligatory sightseeing post.

Last week we went to the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede for our first sneak peak at the church that looms over our new hometown. Legend has it that the creators of this building wanted people to see it and think that they were madmen, thus its grandeur size. It is the third largest cathedral in the world behind St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London (which just means I need to make a quick trip to London to check off the three largest churches in the world.) The most distinct characteristic of this cathedral is its obvious gothic charm. The dark setting allows for deep sense of inner reflection, which might be the Catholic’s way of tricking you into confession, but clever devices aside I was contemplating life. Gold and silver make an appearance well, everywhere, and made me wonder what we humans value in life.

A place to pray

The best part of the cathedral in my opinion, however, was Christopher Columbus’ tomb. His casket is lofted above a marble monument that references one of Columbus’ many burial sites, Cuba. Although our dear Christopher had a good relationship with Isabella (whom we pay thanks for our homeland), Ferdinand was not too fond of the guy and Columbus swore he would never step foot in Spain again after well, things went down. Consequently, he was originally buried in Italy and moved to more places than he visited while alive. After Cuba declared its independence from Spain the church decided they wanted him back, so here he lies in Sevilla. Our tour guide pointed out that his casket is carried by four figures, each one representing a Spanish kingdom: Aragon, Leon, Castile and Navarra; meaning that the creator of the tomb may have been listening to Columbus’ last wish by ensuring that he is not touching the ground. This means that Columbus’ is not on Spanish soil, but that seems like roundabout way of justifying his placement to me.

Oh, hey Columbus.

The last stop on this tour was the Giralda tower, with the best views of Sevilla waiting at the top, I could not surpass the opportunity to climb 35 levels. To my surprise, however; the tower was not filled with narrow wooden stairs that, with the next creak will fall and kill sixty tourists but ramps, beautiful, concrete easy ramps. Turns out that the cathedral used to be a mosque so the bells at the top of the tower had to be rung every few hours, which meant one man was either a very tired man or a horse was a very tired horse. Hence the ramps, the bell watcher could ride the horse up to the top of the tower rather than climb it himself, leaving me one very happy girl.

Aerial View from the Tower


Our next stop was Caso Pilato, which I happen to pass everyday on my way to school. The sixteenth century palace is filled with statues, fountains, cobblestone, courtyards, oh, and of course gold. Coating the majority ceilings in the palace, gold leaf serves as a distraction while the royal family slips into secret passageways that can be spotted if you look at the walls. Yes, they are the same color of the tiles and walls and yes they do look similar but that door has a frame and is wooden. With that said, it was the sixteenth century, they read by candlelight.

The courtyards are like a dream. Designated for tranquility, a vine engrossed archway veils five stone benches encircling a small fountain. The muted sunlight is ideal for reading as the trickling water makes you feel cool (even if it is a placebo effect) which is perfect for a hot Seviallian day. Nearby was the cave of love, because love is like a prison? Behind the thick black steel prison bars was a nude sculpture of Aphrodite sleeping near yet another fountain. The dark shadows create an intense hole of artificial emotions, similar to a ride gone bad at Disneyland. Coins scattered the cell floor so, evidently people are wishing for this type of love?

La Casa Pilato

I believe my heart may have found a love a bit truer; however, when we went to Matascalaña beach on the Atlantic for a day of relaxation. After zig-zagging our way through ubiquitous chairs, umbrellas, towels and topless women we found the perfect spot of sand to sun in. Okay, maybe it was exactly the same as any other spot on the beach, but it was open so we took it, and what spot on a white sandy beach is not good? After a few hours of tanning the tide started to roll in, and people began to flock back up the beach, including a new friend. A three-year-old, curly haired boy in Oscar the Grouch Speedos approached us and began to speak. I was amazed. This little boy was speaking so well, so fluently, with the correct tenses and grammar, asking us to play with him and join his family in the sun. I had a few seconds of astonishment before I realized that children should, by the age of three, be able to talk fluently. I attempted to string some Spanish vocab words together in an attempt to make a new friend but could not help but be jealous of his Spanish skills, I mean yes, he is Spanish, but he’s three! Also, when a small child speaks another language he or she automatically becomes at least one hundred times cuter and this was, by no competition, the cutest Spanish boy I have met yet. After picking up and dropping sand, which was evidently a game for him, his parents called him to go and he dawdled and hung back to hang out with his newly found friends. He told us he would return, but when or how I did not understand and it is possible that he did not understand that crucial detail either. Before he left he came over to give me a besito, or a kiss, on the cheek. It was the most adorable moment of my life and my heart melted a little bit as I watched him walk away. Spanish children, one of the countries best attributes.

I decided to take a dip in the ocean seeing as the closest I’ve come to swimming in the ocean is the Mediterranean Sea and jumping over waves on the Oregon Coast. I walked out deep enough for my waist to be immersed in water, the stomach is always the hardest part, but this water was not cold, it was slightly cool, simply refreshing. I plunged forward, and an invigorating wave swept over me. I breaststroke here and there, admiring the sunlight dancing across the waves. And it was then, that I had a, “I’m in Spain” moment, seemingly surreal but too tactile to deny.

This experience may feel unreal but it is as real as it gets. I am simply floating, trying to take it all in… until a large wave whips me in the face and salt water fills my mouth. No bueño.