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My Favorite Things (State-side Edition)

14 Dec
I have absolutely loved my time here in Spain. Although I am not fluent in Spanish as I had hoped nor am I as “Spanish” as I thought I would be, wearing five-inch stilettos on my moped or dangling a shiny pink flag in front of a bull that wants to dance, after four and a half months of living in Sevilla it has still been an incredible journey. That said, finals have commenced, the Mediterranean diet is seemingly decreasing in variety, I’ve started to catch a cold and Christmas lights are up all over the city. I am officially homesick. These are a just a few things that I’ve realized I have taken advantage of in the past and never truly appreciated.
These are my favorite things, state-side edition.
  • Good coffee
  • Spicy food
  • Clean public bathrooms (equipped with toilet paper, functioning sinks and soap)
  • Snacks
  • Eating at regular hours of the day
  • People who pick up their garbage
  • Cold weather (yes, I know it’s weird.)
  • My pets
  • The ability to watch a television show and understand it
  • Receiving the newspaper
  • Thai food (specifically Thai Tom’s)
  • Hanging out INSIDE a house, not in the streets
  • GOOD wifi
  • Driving
  • A comfortable bed, preferably one that does not leave spring indentations on my back.
  • Food that has been refrigerated, not mysteriously left out overnight
  • Carpet
  • Central heating
  • A good hamburger (I know it sounds super-cliché American but I just don’t care.)
  • A cockroach free house
  • A cell phone that does not require “topping up”
  • Curling up with a movie and hot cocoa

Things I will miss:

  • Spaniards trying to sing English Christmas Songs
  • The Sevilla Rollerblading Club that makes unexpected appearances throughout town
  • Siestas

I will also miss this:

Jardines de Alcazar por la noche

Jardines Alcazar

Favorite statue in Sevilla - A tribute to Ferdinand and Isabella

Tribute to Ferdinand and Isabella

Plaza España

Plaza España

Calle Santa Maria Blanca - Also known as Adorbs street, because it's adorable

Adorbs Street

El Rio Guadalquivivir por la noche

Guadalquivivir

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Eight Miles (No, not the Eminem story)

9 Dec

Five times a day families, neighbors and communities in a country with shantytowns the size of suburbs,  kneel down to pray. A mere eight miles away, across a choppy Strait of Gibraltar, an increasingly secular first world country holds record-breaking amounts of television consumption.

Spain and Morocco are two countries that exist as neighbors but act as worlds apart.

To be honest, the procrastination of writing this post has rooted out of my fear of tackling my trip to Morocco into words. One of the most religious trips I have ever experienced came to exist in four days and it will never be forgotten. How cliché, I know, but it’s true. Now, in order to keep your interest, let’s start out with something fun.

Moroccan Food

My mouth is literally watering while thinking about it. If I had to choose one type of food to eat for the rest of my life it would be Moroccan food. You know how, as a kid (not now), you always wished you could have dessert before dinner? If every child in America knew, they would want to move to the third world country of Morocco where delicious little pastries, remarkably similar to biscotti, are eaten before the main meal. Next, the sweetest green tea you’ll have ever tasted is poured feet above the tea cup from elegant, large silver teapots by the strongest man or woman in the room. Two large platters are then placed in front of you, one with a tender, juicy chicken freckled with almond slices and the other with warm, soft, fall-apart-as-soon-as-it-touches-your-lips goat meat dazzled with sweet prunes. As you stare in astonishment, the rest of the table digs in, with their hands! That’s right, everything is finger food! One of my favorite past times is picking the chip with the honorable balance of guacamole, olives, sour cream and salsa topped with shredded cheese but the skill of grabbing the right chunk o’ meat off of the large platter of goat meat in the center of the table is a whole different story. You don’t want to spend too much time fumbling around the center of the table but you do want a suitably sized piece and finding that equilibrium is an art form in itself. All you finger food neigh sayers who think eating with your hands is cave-manesque have it all wrong. Don’t dismiss it ‘til you try it. It is, hands up, the best way to eat.

Moroccan Tea and Pastries

The pouring of the tea

A Moroccan Picnic

(On a side note, if you ever do travel to a Muslim country, only eat with your right hand. Your left hand is believed to be dirty. This applies to handshakes as well.)

The Hammam

“You will never feel cleaner than the moment you step out of the Hammam,” our tour guides told us. Still apprehensive, I didn’t believe them, especially after they handed me a packet of black soap and a bucket.

If you were to have asked me four months ago if I ever thought I would participate in a public bath, there is no way my answer would have been yes. People can see you! And, let’s be honest, it sounds a little unsanitary. Well, I eat my hypothetical words because I did indeed take part in a public bath, it was eye opening and not as hippie as it sounds (well, maybe a little hippie-ish.)

If you’re anything like me, when you hear “public bath” you imagine a small pond with people gathered around in the middle of a small forest on the outskirts of town. Let me put many of your fears to rest right now, Hammams are enclosed, gender specific and underwear is often worn. The people of Morocco use it because the price of water is high within the home. For some, it is still necessary, for others it is optional.

As soon as we entered the dressing (or undressing) room, we were sweating. It seemed necessary to disrobe. After collecting the proper soaps, scrubbers and buckets we stepped into a room that is hotter than any sauna I have ever been in. After the initial awkward, we-are-naked-and-don’t-know-what-to-do-in-this-large-concrete-hellishly-hot-room phase was over, we filled our buckets with water that nearly burned the skin and from there it was pretty straightforward. Moroccan women often scrub each other down, washing each other’s back as though the soap is sunscreen and ensure the other is fully clean. The symbiotic relationship makes for a spiritual cleanse and sheds a bit of light on the tight-knit Moroccan communities.

After a long bath with numerous dumpings of hot water buckets, I cannot say I felt the cleanest I had ever been (the flocks of people sharing one concrete floor to sit and bathe on had me doubting that) but I did feel rejuvenated and a little more worldly. Plus, there is no better way to bond with a few friends than through awkward experiences!

The People

I have not spent a great deal of time with Muslims but the few that I have, both in the States and in Morocco, have taught me that at the root of their religion is kindness, openness and tolerance. They are some of the most warmhearted people I have ever met. Our program placed us in two-night homestays with Moroccan families. I was a little apprehensive at first with the glaring language barrier, religious differences, culture contrasts and the removal of the shoes into one’s home (I always have been and always will be self-conscious and a little weirded out by this.)

The family we stayed with could not have been any more welcoming. After a fabulous dinner with traditional Moroccan soup, Fattimah, the one girl who spoke broken English, asked us if we wanted to see some of the traditional robes. Without a doubt the answer was yes but, what we did not realize is that we would have to look into a mirror to see them. The women quickly brought us each a dress and as Fattimah pulled the dress over my head she told me that this particular dress was her Aunt’s wedding dress. Wedding dress?! I was astonished that they would trust a perfect stranger with such a sentimental gem, then suddenly very worried that I would ruin it. We shuffled into the living room for some pictures and then, the music began. The two young girls in the room began to dance and invited us to join them, this usually wouldn’t be a problem but we had just ingested large amounts of Moroccan food in an eighty-degree room and then put on extremely valuable dresses but we did the best a few white girls could while being shown up by an 8-year-old Shakira. Here I am thinking that the Moroccan culture is sexually suppressed yet these women could move in ways I did not know possible and I am pretty sure we met the Moroccan version of Willow Smith.

Dancing with our Moroccan homestay family

Willow?

The rest of our stay was comfortable but one obvious observation was that, while in the home, not once did we see a man, always were we in a room full of women. Now, I know men lived in the house as the women spoke of their male relatives and I saw one peaking through the door when we first arrived but we never actually met one. Our tour guide said some families still eat in gender specific tables but it is unusual. I can only guess that it may have been due to our presence that they were not eating together for the weekend.

We also experienced Turkish toilets, which I would rather not explain, so if you’re curious you can click here. (Only ours did not come equipped with a flusher or toilet paper.)

Islam

The call to prayer, although alarming to my American ears at first, is beautiful. The chant-like siren was unlike anything I had heard before and I was relieved that what was playing over the loud speakers was not an alarm for bombings but rather a call for meditation and reflection, a call for peace.

Growing up in a Christian family, school and community, I have been surrounded by the warmth of faith in church, youth group and prayer circles but never have I seen religion bring people together in such a manner. The majority of the country comes together for prayer at the exact same time five times a day, every day. Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe church and state should be separate but the growing movement away from any sort of religion in America is depressing to say the least. I am not attempting to step on anyone’s toes, I do not judge for any religious beliefs one may have or lack thereof, but the amount of lawsuit cases within the American judicial system that exist due to the fact that someone was offended by the mention of God or the wishing of a holiday that they may not celebrate is appalling to say the least. If there is one thing I would like to take away from my trip to Morocco and share with you it is tolerance and acceptance.

Left over by, the town, Chefchaouen's former Jewish population, blue represents religion and community within Islam.

Historically, those who identify with the Muslim religion have been known for being welcoming and open-minded. During the time of Moorish rule in Southern Spain, Cordoba was the center of academic progression, language, diversity and religious tolerance. Little known fact, the theory of nothing, of zero, was born in Cordoba during this time.

As I sat talking to a 28-year-old Muslim girl wearing a hijab, a scarf to cover one’s hair, I became self conscious of my long hair draped across my shoulders and asked if it offended her. She simply stated no and told me that the Koran had taught her to be completely welcoming of everyone and that she had only began to wear the headdress a few years previously. The hijab is a choice (being forced to wear a burqa under Taliban rule is a completely different story) made by a woman to prevent tempting a man into sin while symbolizing their commitment to Allah. Agree or disagree, there is not much of a difference in the symbolism that exists with wearing a cross necklace.

After the attack of 9/11 many stereotypes have developed rooting in fear of Muslims and understandably so after a nation is shaken in such a way, but what one has to look at is the individual. One group of people cannot represent the entirety of a religious belief. There are Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Buddhists, to name a few, who have committed great crimes, observe the Christian crusades for example. I guess all I am trying to say is, from now on I will strive to be as welcoming of people of all religions and beliefs as the Muslims that I have been lucky enough to encounter are.

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
-Aldous Huxley

A Moroccan Sunset

Oh yeah, also, we rode camels on the beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The end.

I'm on a camel!

The Atlantic

Rabat

Two boys play soccer in Rabat

The Roman Ruins of Chellah

The Roman Ruins of Chellah

Chellah

Kittens in the Chellah

Chellah

The Moroccan Bazaar in Rabat

Writing our names in Arabic

Farmland

A Moroccan family's small garden

View from a small village in the Rif Mountains

Chefchaouen

Mosque overlooking The Rif Mountains

Chefchaouen at night

Rainbow Waves

17 Nov

Rainbow wave. It sounds tacky, right? I know, but it’s not. I promise. It is awesome.

After a couple days showing David around my new hometown of Sevilla (and losing the love of my host family to my boyfriend over one cup of coffee) we embarked upon a travel to David’s motherland: Portugal, where the ocean stole my heart. Deep, indigo blues socialize with turquoise waves and red sand to create a breathtaking landscape. I know this is cliché, but I honestly thought these scenes only existed on the movie screen.

Hives got the ball rolling on day one in Lagos. My body hates me. I still, to this day, do not know the source of them but do know that popping Benadryl did not relieve the problem and only made me tired. Go figure.

This did not stop me; however, it might have made me loopy but it did not stop me and I was happy that Portugal greeted us with seventy degree weather in November. Accompanied by two friends from Sevilla we explored the quaint town and spent most of our time on the beach (walking, mind you, it wasn’t quite that warm.) Portugal’s bad economy is a blessing for poor student travelers and we ate well that night after one large trip to the grocery store. We ventured down to see the beach and stars at night and the tranquility of the ocean was gorgeous. Even in darkness the ocean roared of its black beauty.

The following morning we went to “THE END OF THE WORLD!” Pronounced just like that. In Sagres, Portugal (the most South-Western point in Europe) we gawked at the spot where Europeans believed the land stopped and the ocean took over. Completely surrounded by powerful waves and deep seas I can understand why one would be frightened to explore much further.

One of the most magnificent things I have ever seen occurred ten minutes before we hopped back on the bus. It was a simple, natural phenomenon that stopped me dead in my tracks. Right after I had decided to put down my camera and take in the scenery via my own lenses (contact, to be exact) a wave started to roll into itself and a glimmer of red, yellow, green and blue skimmed atop the swell.

Rainbow wave.

Rainbow Wave

Daredevil fisherman on the Edge of the World.

It happened once and I was speechless, and then it happened again and it was real. I mumbled something about how cool it was, words escaping any thought process I was having and stared and prayed, thanking God for putting me in the right place at the right time. Considering how light spectrums work, the sun’s rays were bouncing off the soft droplets of water from these majestic waves and were only visible to those angled just behind the wave. Needless to say, I picked up my camera again.

Evora, Portugal came next but not before a queasy four and a half hour bus ride thanks to the newbie they decided to train on this particular route. Arriving late at night we were lucky to find a small pizza place and after a not-so-good dinner went to bed exhausted and a little bit nauseous. The next day we explored the town of Evora, which is completely engulfed by medieval walls and is known for having the most intact Roman ruins. We decided to settle for a cheap lunch of just soup and walked into a café that was selling bowls for a 1.50 euro. When the waitress asked if we wanted bread, cheese and olives alongside our lunch well, we couldn’t resist. Large bowls of Portuguese soup filled us up for a cheap price and it was one of the best meals of the trip.

Lisbon greeted us with rain and a locked hostel that night. We may have frightened some passersby as we sat in the sheltered doorway until the hostel owner graciously came back to let us in late at night. I might have secretly wished that someone would throw us some change but alas, no luck. Don’t judge me, money is always welcomed.

Roman ruins in Evora, Portugal

Portuguese Soup

Fever struck David the following morning and the day consisted of weird but extremely cheap drugs (I considered stocking up), navigating the foreign language and prices in the huge Portuguese grocery store and attempting to make soup out of some expensive organic vegetable bouillon cubes (only ones I could find, of course) and lots of veggies. It didn’t look very pretty but it had to be healthy! (Sorry again, David.)

Health did not grace us until our last day in Portugal and even then it was a little wishy-washy. We were able to fit in an exploration to one part of the city, find a castle on the beach, walk through the church and enjoy some delicious pastries from a famous bakery. Lisbon, spark note style.

Lisbon

Statue in Lisbon

A trip filled with illness was not expected nor is it ever ideal while traveling but is that not beauty of traveling in itself? The good and bad come in waves, but in the end, what you have seen and experienced makes it all worthwhile. Stumbling through an unknown language, exploring new foods, soaking up every last drop of this unexplored territory and enjoying the simplest of beauties, even the last ten minutes of Sagres, Portugal because you never know when you’ll see a rainbow wave.

 

To see the rainbow wave in full action, watch David’s video:

 

 

Sagres

Path leading to the End of the World.

The End of the World

Evora

Evora

It looks little because it is.

Evora

Lisbon

Lisbon

Castle on the beach in Lisbon

Lisbon

Pastéis

Siesta

7 Nov

I am sad to inform you, the vast amounts of my dear and faithful readers, that I have been having troubles with my computer recently. My little 4-year-old macbook is officially full, which means I have to move all of my crap into my external hard drive. Luckily, being the tech illiterate that I am, this has taken me a long time with not much prosperity. So, until I can fix this little hiccup, I cannot upload any of my recent pictures and therefore am postponing my more recent blog posts because, well, they are just not the same without pictures.

In the meantime, I’ve made a list to describe my interpretation of the tradition of the Spanish siesta.

Things I could do during siesta:
– Homework
– Blog
– Study for upcoming finals
– Practice Spanish
– Budget my current student loans
– Find the stray cats (that are ubiquitous about Sevilla) a home
– Work on my résumé
– Look for future jobs
– Look for an apartment
– Attempt to fix my computer
– Figure out life

Things I do during siesta:
– Catch up on my favorite American t.v. shows
– Sleep

And there you have the menacing trap of the Spanish siesta. I encourage you to try it today!

Meet me in Paris! (And Lyon and Barcelona)

25 Oct

Quick apology for the brief hiatus I have taken from my little Spanish blog. Didn’t mean to abandon anyone (sorry Mom!) but two weeks of solid traveling followed by a full week of midterms left me exhausted and in need of a recovery weekend but, now that I am back from the dead, here is my blog!

Not only has the fall of 2011 graced travel upon myself, but many people I know. Numerous friends are in various European countries as well as Australia (that’s right, shout out to you Taylor!) and in my opinion; nothing beats having a friendly face to greet you in a foreign land. And so, my first international trip began with a face I know well.

I met my boyfriend, David, in Paris for a long wonderful, yet rainy weekend. The trip was full of grandeur, touristy landmarks representing the rich history that is Paris. This being my second time to Paris, the first with my cousin Jenny as the wonderful tour guide, I was able to take in the city a bit more and appreciate the Parisian culture (even if they are a bit snobby.)

Notre Dame de Paris

Landing in Paris for the first time is overwhelming. People are speaking French, and if you are anything like me without an ounce of knowledge of the sexiest language alive, nod and say “Mer(cchhhkkaa)ci!) like you are clearing your throat, while you begin to feel like a lost puppy and a map that has more little landmark symbols than you’ve ever seen before, including not one but two Arc de Triomphs, is shoved into your hands and you think only one thing: shit.

This time; however, I was not stunned by the little symbols on the map demanding attention but rather was eager to see the landmarks again, without the glazed eyes of a shocked tourist. Step by step we began to conquer the city. First was a trip to the Louvre (for anyone who cares, is free to students with a passport on Fridays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.), which is another overwhelming experience in itself. I think they say it would take days to see the museum in full, but knowing the time it takes me to process fine, antique art, it would take weeks.

So we found our way to the Mona Lisa. Check! And yes, her eyes still follow you even if she has met you prior (possibly more?) A few more gorgeous paintings, such as the Veronese (The Wedding Feast), sculptures including my favorite the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and a couple mummies, which gave me more of a creepy feeling than an appreciative one, I’ll be honest.

The Louvre

The Louvre at Night

We walked under the Arc de Triomph the following brisk, fall day through the Jardin de Tulleries and onto the Eiffel Tower, where we got some obligatory yet unique photos, to say the least. The Notre Dame was soon to follow with swoons over the magnificent stained glass and the picking out of our favorite gargoyles. All of this was intermingled (of course) with crepes, kebabs, and copious amounts of baguettes.

Autumn in Paris is breathtaking. So breathtaking, I was left coughing for most of it. (Although the croaky voice did seem to help with the “merci’s”) My newly found Spanish body did not adjust well to the cold, rainy atmosphere. And my version of being a tourist, walking everywhere with the exception of a few metro rides, only wore me down further. Thankfully, I was in good company that made me comforting food, and I won’t lie, the French wine seemed to help quite a bit too.

A backstreet in Paris

An early morning train took us to David’s study abroad city of choice: Lyon, (pronounced Lyonnggghhh, I do not know how people speak French!) France. I was amazed at how France and Spain seemed to conglomerate in this Southern French city. The architecture was that of France, yet the colors those of Spain. It was as though Pablo Picasso himself came through and painted Jean Nouvel’s buildings (ok, maybe not quite, but you get the picture.)

The Quay along the Rhone River

The city was much brighter than Paris, and warmer both in temperature and in greetings. I welcomed both with open arms. I learned that the people in Lyon are not Parisian, only Parisians are Parisians. This means that smiles were returned and conversations sprung up instantaneously, which I met with more smiles and turned the attention to David to answer any questions or comments.

And I thought trying to understand Spanish was bad.

I felt like a woman living in the late 18th century, Pride and Prejudice era, only speaking when spoken to but not even adequate enough to do that. A lost puppy look on my face, I hoped the interrogator would not place his glance on me again and quickly asked David to fill me in on what was just said. Oh, what it would be to be multilingual.

Lyon is not touristy. With this said, it has a deep history and we were able to appreciate it by visiting the Grand Theatre and the Odeon, both old Roman theatres that were renovated and are currently used as amphitheatres. The Opera Hall, located in the city centre, is also a site to be seen yet has been “modernized” if you will, with a contemporary top hat. I think I would prefer it to be bald.

The Grand Theatre

Lyon's Opera House - Renovated

After one more night with delicious food and an early morning run to the train station, I bid adieu to France and made my way back to Sevilla.

The night following my return, I departed for Barcelona, which I flew through the day before, (oh the incessant demands of classes) this time to meet my cousin Corrinne and friend Sarah.

Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona.

Beautiful to say the least, the city is huge and infamous for pick pocketing. As I grasped my purse, a sigh of relief came with the knowledge that I could speak Spanish here! People understand me, kinda, sorta, a little bit… No more Charlotte Lucas for me! That is, until they spoke. Catalán, the dialect spoken in Barcelona, is vastly different from any Spanish I know. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish still got us around, but I usually had to ask the front desk to switch to English (thankfully, they know that too) to talk to me because I do not understand Catalán. I; however, do not feel bad about this misunderstanding as my señora said she does not know an ounce of Catalán and if a Spaniard cannot decipher the dialect, then you cannot expect me to.

We saw beaches, the Catedral, the Olympic Stadium (and some metal man receiving a medal), Plaça d’Espanya, and the most unique architecture I have ever placed eyes on thanks to Frederic W. Goudy. One of my favorite stops of the trip; however, was to La Boqueria. This large market was located directly behind our hotel and quickly found a place in my heart. Fruit, vegetables, cheese, hanging pig legs, all were to be found at this hodgepodge of food commerce. I could have spent days sampling a myriad of Mediterranean cuisine, but alas naps were calling our names as Corrinne and Sarah fell right into the Spanish trap that I did: siestas.

Gowdy

La Boqueria Fruit

Mediterranean Fruit in La Boqueria

I was lucky enough to relish in a bit of luxury traveling this trip. Sleeping in every morning in a big, comfortable hotel bed, traveling by taxi and tour bus and enjoying tapas and sangria for every meal meant indulgence for me. All thanks to my generous cousin, of course. With the exception of one possibly haunted night in our hotel, I slept the best I have during my time abroad, which was necessary before my midterms but Barcelona, I’ll be back and next time with some Catalán in me.

Who am I kidding? One dialect is enough.

And now, few more pictures for your liking…

Paris, France

The Louvre

The Leaning Tour Eiffel

The Arc de Triomph

The Arc de Triomph

Jardin de Tulleries

The Notre Dame de Paris - Entrance

Lyon, France

The Streets of Lyon

Rustic Door in Lyon (with the doorknob in THE MIDDLE of the door!

Un Boulangerie

Some more Roman Ruins in Lyon

Fountain in Lyon

Reason #72 why Lyon is beautiful

Barcelona, Spain

Plaça de Espanya

Olympic Stadium and Weird Metal Athlete

Eggs at La Boqueria

Pig legs hanging in the market

Fresh Fruit Smoothies at La Boqueria

Fresh Fruit Smoothies at La Boqueria

And finally, the beach!

And finally, the beach!

A Fight to the Death

13 Oct

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience. You have to go,” I told myself over and over again as I walked in the heat of the day to buy tickets to my first (and most likely, last) bullfight. Despite my indecisiveness about the sport, my friends and I had looked into going prior to this day but tickets were going for seventy euro, which is a tad out of my price range. I had given up hope until I heard a “Lindsie! Guess what!” at the entrance of the coffee shop where I was earnestly studying (obviously) on a Sunday afternoon. By some miracle, most likely because it was an amateur match; my friends had found tickets for 13 euro. I was sold instantly and within minutes was on my way to un corrido.

Upon arrival, it is transparent that this sport truly holds significance in the heart of the Spaniards. Stone pews encircle the ring in overlapping strands to hold hundreds of bullfighting fans who look down upon what can only be the reddest sand I’ve ever seen while three flags, with Spain’s at the center, fly above the focal point of the ring. The architecture is magnificent and one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen since I’ve been here in Sevilla.

Excitement bubbled up inside of me when music from the brass band began to play. After a traditional opening ceremony introducing the players and assistants on board, the matadors took their place. The audience was silenced along with the muted band and a single trumpet began to play a dubious solo, turning the attention to the banging and kicking heard against the walls of one of the entrances to the ring. The music stopped and heavy footsteps were heard as the bull rushed into the ring.

The games had started.

Bull

The first bull was smaller but rambunctious to say the least. Numerous matadors welcomed him to the ring and fired him up, enticing him this way and that by the motion of their neon pink flags. A solo trumpet was heard once again and the doors to a larger entrance swung open. Two blindfolded and thoroughly armored horses crossed into the threshold, their riders ready with swords? What was about to occur became, by far, my least favorite part of the bullfight. Luring the bull toward the horses, the well protected riders? Stabbed the bull from above, once, twice, three times. Lifting both the horse and its guest, the furious bull, lashed back by attempting to gore the horse in the underbelly. I was thankful to see (and hear) that the horse was wearing metal plates around its belly and was not frightened because he could not see. The morality in this may be sketchy, but I was at least happy not to see another innocent animal die.

After the horses were called back in, the artistic performance began. The matador, dressed in a gold, glittery outfit topped off with pink socks, raised his cap to the audience and faced his opponent. With the flick of his wrist, the bright red flag swayed and the bull came galloping forward. Simultaneously moving the flag and contorting his body into the shape of a C, the matador lead the bull under the flag and around his body. “¡Olé!” Came a shout from the crowd and I finally began to understand the allure of a bullfight.

Three matadors performed, fighting two bulls each. The first bull conquered is an indication of the bullfighter’s masculinity, the second a confirmation. In terms of masculinity; however, I believe matadors would give ballerinas a run for their money. The performance is as much an art form, as it is a sport. In fact, many Spaniards argue that it is simply an art. The matador is constantly seducing the bull; tiptoeing toward and away from the fellow performer. The duet is constant, a dance that ushers the artists to flow together in fluid motions. Spontaneity, in form of the bull, ensures the talent of the matador and how softly he can control the beast, caressing him, blood and all to prove his gift.

The tango ends in one final thrust of the sword down the mighty bull’s heart. An attempt to fight back is always given by the wounded, but not for long. The jumps are discontinued, the swift movement of the matador less necessary and the twirls a little slower until finally, the bull’s life comes to an end.

It is, almost, like a tragic love story. Almost.

Watching the entirety of the performance is hard yet intriguing. Like a train wreck, you don’t want to see yet you cannot look away. The glass in the lens of my camera served to be a shield from reality, the more I took pictures, the easier it was to handle. This method worked until one matador was thrown into the air and suddenly morality set in, “do I take pictures? Do I stop taking pictures? This is really happening… I am staring at a man about to be trampled by a large, ferocious bull.” Consequently, choices were not at hand as shock set in first and the camera came back down around my neck. Hopefully this didn’t keep me from an award-winning photo. (By the way, the matador was fine… just a little too bold in my opinion.)

As I walked away, increasingly insensitive to the six bulls that I watched die, I found myself more in question of the morality than mourning over the animals. Thank goodness for my Spanish civilization class. The bulls bodies are still in good shape after their death, therefore, the meat goes to use as well as most of the carcass. Bull’s tail is a common tapa around Andalusia, though I have yet to try it. There is also one situation in which both the matador and the bull live. If and when the bull and matador are such courageous and bold fighters that neither give up, the audience can request that the bull live. With this comes no shame on part of the matador because he has come across an equally strong performer and the two danced beautifully. The matador’s masculinity comes with the fact that he has not been gored to death. This occasion is rare, but the bull goes back to its peaceful, open range farm where it procreates for the rest of its life… a type of reward, if you will, and to produce more bulls like it while the matador becomes a large celebrity.

Maybe there is an ideal goodness in bullfighting? Then again, maybe not….

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.

Stilettos

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.

Floating

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

Bells

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.

¡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! 🙂