Saturday, 21 November 2009

Thoughts of late

Time has been an unbelievably fluid concept here but with only one month left in our academic program, it’s quickly taking tangible form. In our ultimate weeks together, few weekend excursions are planned and I greatly anticipate warm, bustling nights out in Andalucía. I regret the lack in published writing but I assure my daily itinerary has managed to fill itself, much like in Madison. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have been taking Flamenco classes after school with some fellow brave Americans of the program and I happily report our progress in Sevilliano dancing. On Tuesdays after class I volunteer at a Spanish school of all ages; my friend Danielle and I work in the 4-5 year old gym class, a weekly treasure I simply cannot get enough of. The boisterous group has come to love “the American girls”(in the beginning, they seemed curious but skeptical) and my heart still melts when we’re greeted with the smiling faces of Alejandro, Carmen, Antonio, Jose, Blanca, Christina, and the others. This past Tuesday we presented the gym teachers (who are both quite animated males themselves and asked us out to dancing after class... hmm) with an American favorite, Duck Duck Goose, translated as Pato Pato Gonzo, and explained the game’s objectives ourselves. Ensuring the complete understanding of this game to a rowdy group of youngsters in Spanish was easier said than done but the result far surpassed any expectations. It was a definitive success and they expressed their excitement to now knowing an American game, though they think ‘goose’ is a funny word. Aside from such extra-curricular activities, this week we had Midterms and it wasn’t the same without the tedious over-nighters at College Library, complete with turtle mocha and obligatory mint brownie. Lately, fellow peers have been visited by parents and given the opportunity to boast Sevilla’s greatest treasures to loved ones and I desperately wish my mom could come. This being the longest time spent away from home, I’m struck with opposing desires. As much as I anticipate returning home at times, I am just as sure I want to keep my bags packed and never return. I realize how much I truly miss the people in my life -my family, the longstanding friends from Wauconda, the unforgettable clan in Madison, my sisters at Hooters- all who I visit frequently by shuffling through old pictures. Yet, this experience has generated a cultural lens which has forced me to look at America in a completely light. In a country so fervent on an ideology, an idea of prosperity and freedom all wrapped in a red bow and white-picket fence, its actual deficit is of epic proportions. It is the most efficient, convenient, fast, and accessible, all of which only further proliferate a sense of stress and hurriedness. Where is the reward in efficiency and quickness when the completion of one task simply denotes another unchecked email? In pre-planned and packaged housing developments, where the only communication with your neighbor is a quick wave before leaving for work, where is the culture? In a country which prides itself on being the most powerful, influential, and great, why is it that most of its inhabitants financially cannot even attend college? After conversations with Australians, Spaniards, Irishmen, French and Argentineans, I couldn’t help but feel cheated by my own country which asks for $30,000 a year for schooling (a figure which all the aforementioned peoples did not believe). In Australia, the government funds every students’ college upfront and does not ask for a cent back until that student is making over $30,000 a year in a stable job; even then the tuition amounts to a mere couple thousand. As we drink and gather in the plazas together late at night, I can’t help but look around me and feel the magic, the story inherent in these preserved cultures. On a nightly basis here, I am granted the opportunity to indulge in the Islamic-influenced architectural gems which have stood since the 15th century while drinking a forty of Cruzcampo. The streets are sprinkled with hidden plazas, nooks which host old fountains and tile-works and a few jovial Americans, playing hacky –sac and toasting to good times. And whenever I feel the frustrations of the lacking internet access or get impatient with the aloof waitress, it is these things I remember. It is these times I cherish. Yet, in between country borders and city lines, one realization continues to emerge over and over again. No matter which zip code is currently engulfing me, no matter what dot on a map I may currently be, nothing will compare to the people from home. I miss you all more than you know.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Nothing short of a miracle

Thanks to the academic refractory period following exams, I am finally able to uphold my previous promise in updating weeks past. (For family’s sake, I’ll note here that despite Facebook albums which insinuate no studying takes place, my first batch of midterms amounted to three A’s and two B’s.) I tell these tales chronologically and geographically, aided by the foretelling evidences of my Finepix camera and accompanied by the plucking guitar chords of Stairway to Heaven (strange how Led Zeppelin makes for inspired writing). I aim to recall every last dripping account—the smells, sights, people, conversations, food, artworks, and feelings experienced in each city; however, I recognize the limitations therein. There are some details which have since eluded me; and others that smirk in the light of attempting words because all inevitably fall short. And then there are the memories that have yet to surface… the ones bubbling in our inner depths, waiting to emerge until juxtaposed with the reassurances of home. It is these experiences, through an awakened metaphysical awareness, that continue to foster a growing human capacity, though degree or direction cannot be tangibly assessed. The subtleties of sleeping on a train station floor in London to reach sunrise, walking the same tiled corridors as the Muslims of 8th century Islamic Sevilla, or climbing the daunting Porteguese rockwall, first conceived to be impossible, to the other side and witnessing beauty nothing short of a miracle – all elicit some untold implication. And just as it was, pre-gaming on the hostel floor with a cunning French guy, his corky Argentinean sidekick, Daniel from Czech, William from England, and our own American medley (represented by Chicago, Minnesota, Iowa, and Jersey), getting drunk under the tongue of five languages simultaneously, it was obvious something has changed. Somewhere between three countries and four cities thus far, it became evident: we are evolving. These experiences may be explained but cannot be fully understood. Months ago, I was once told by an unassuming, kind man whom I waited on during my long stint at Hooters that being a writer, I “see the world through different eyes, and have the ability to share that gift with others through the written word.”It was the most genuine compliment I've ever been told (particularly while doting the infamous orange shorts), but I see now more than ever the challenge and blessing inherent in those words.

MADRID up close-and personal

-----The four of us anxiously awaited Thursday’s closing class-bell, with high anticipation of what would be the unforgettable weekend which introduced us to the marvels and mayhem of life on the road, [independently travelling Europe, that is]. We boarded the high-speed Eurorail, a luxurious train fully equipped with a café/bar, spacious seats, and flat-screen TVs (note: Confessions of a Shopaholic = horrible movie). We arrived in Madrid early evening and enjoyed the brisk walk to our hostel (a profound contrast to the still-heat of Sevilla), conveniently located just blocks from the train station and even closer to Madrid’s most renowned dance club. In our cozy, 10-bed, blue hostel room, we immediately made friends with our new, weekend roommates Daniel (from Czech Republic), later joined by Jota and company (French & Argentinean). After showering, we spent our first hours drinking at the hostel and getting closer to tipsy while exchanging stories from our respective corners of the globe. After “water-falling” our cheap vodka (thus perplexing our newfound foreign friends with our strange, American binge-drinking games), we strolled and laughed to the doors of the notorious Club Kapital.
-----I heard the demographics of the legendary discotheque, 7- stories high featuring different music on each level, but little could have prepared me for the night we were in for. As customary in European culture, the club met capacity at around 2am as the lasers, light shows, and ice cannons complemented Spanish accents and olive skin-tones on the dance floor. A group of Spanish girls pulled me into their group with inquisitions of my origins in hopes to hook a blonde for their fellow comrade and I complied just long enough to test out Spanish dancing skills for myself. Throughout the night we explored the many maze-like nooks of the club, sneaking into the 3rd floor VIP and sampling the various musical tastes; however, nothing compares to its famous 1st level dance floor in which all the higher floors look over. Little can be said in summary of the night though it stands as one of the most unforgettable; all I can say is that ice cannons contributed in making Club Kapital far more superior than any club in Chicago or New York and the night didn’t end until morning.
-----Despite the events of night prior, our first full day in Madrid was filled with historical and artistic explorations. We went to the Botanical Gardens, slowly strolling the blooming pathways while nursing our hangovers preceding a full-scale expedition of the city. We scaled Madrid from one side to the other, absorbing its metropolitan bustle and architectural magnificence. I absolutely adored Madrid; it has the commercialization and rush of Chicago yet maintains its history so beautifully and loyally. We weaved inside the shopping district’s narrow, winding roads, similar to those of Sevilla in between visiting the many statues and monuments. In late afternoon, we took the full tour of the incredibly vast and intricate King’s Castle and enjoyed the expansive view of the city’s hills from the backyard. (Thanks to a newfound structural appreciation from my Monuments class, the visit was made even more remarkable with the ability to situate all the Roman semi-circle arches and lattice windows in its historical context.) Subsequent walking led us to the brilliant cathedrals and basilicas where at one point, the sun began to set over the country side and a violinist graced the plaza. With coinage I requested Canon in D, and as Pachebel filled the plaza, the evening sky’s brilliant gold’s, blue’s, and purple’s casted an iridescent glow across the city. I’ll never be capable of relaying the feeling of that moment; suffice it to say that it was one definable instant -in which I felt so lucky to be alive, to be on the other side of the world, I stared and nodded until everything about that moment became burned eternally in my head.
-----After returning home to the hostel, we prepared for the night and met Saturday’s fresh crop of roommates. We joined our newfound friends, who thankfully knew Madrid quite well, in a rare opportunity; touring the futbol stadium of Real Madrid Santiago Bernabeu. Without plan or purpose, we happened to arrive at the footsteps of this city for the one weekend of the celebrated, annual festival Noche Blanco, allowing us the chance to actually WALK THE FIELD. After two hours in line, we emerged to the fresh grass and blinding lights of Spain’s most notorious stadium and actually sat in the PLAYER’S SEATS! Quite elated, we continued the night in the chaotic streets in celebration of Noche Blanco where millions of white balloons hung like holiday ornaments. After short drinks, a walk through the Museum of Ham, and some beloved Burger King, we called it a night and rested for our last full day in the city.
We checked out of the hostel, left our bags in the holding room, and began a full day of sightseeing. Our first visit was to Reina Sofia, Madrid’s Museum of Contemporary Art. In little time, we were completely engulfed in four floors of mind-twisting displays, paintings, sculptures, ambiguous movies, and also enjoyed the world’s largest collection of original Picasso works. An undisputed favorite among us was the trippy, acid-like movie showcase, where we four sat for over twenty minutes, eyes wide open to the quick successions of color and patterns... though the Dali exhibit was a close contender. Immediately after, we again accidently stumbled upon another Spanish gem while eating Kit Kat ice cream in the park; within minutes we were encircled by hundreds of bikers participating in the Vuelta de Espana (equivalent to Tour de France). I’m still not sure how we got so lucky as to choose this momentous weekend to experience Spain’s capitol, but I’m even further baffled as to how the annual bicycle spectacle, among other things, LITERALLY unfolded right around us, with no conscious planning on our part. Following our inspiring ice-cream stop, we visited the acclaimed Prado Museum, this time showcasing classical (vs. contemporary) artworks; as one of the world’s greatest classical museums, it surpassed all expectations I could have feebly gathered previously.
-----We enjoyed one last stroll through the town’s center, admiring the vivid blues of Madrid’s panoramic sky, a vibrancy I have not yet seen surpassed. We reached the train station with a comfortable window of time, though the margin for error was not needed. And the ride home was relaxing yet saddening; the boys fell fast asleep and we girls rehashed every moment from the tiring weekend with laughter. For a weekend absolutely filled with surprises, perhaps the biggest one was waiting for me in Sevilla. We departed the train and with luggage in tow, each walked to our senora’s house. Absolutely exhausted, I arrived at the footsteps of my large, wooden door and let out a sigh, grumbling “Ah, feels good to be home.” And it was then for the first time I realized… I’m in Spain… but I've never felt so at home.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Apologies for my week of electronic absence, hope family members were not left too concerned from my preceding closing (for the curious, Friday morning’s hangover would have been horrendous had I not danced until 5am, thus sweating out all the alcohol as I drank it). But now, I am indulging in the longstanding Spanish tradition of Siesta (midday, everything closes and the city participates in drinking, eating way too much then napping before opening businesses back up around 6pm), one custom not surrendered by Andalucía despite the contrary by such commercialized cities as Madrid. It’s one of many trademarks that make this place all too surreal and dreamlike, though (spoken like a true American), I must admit the influx of inefficiency drives me mad at times. However, the newfound daybreak has allotted time for some unexpected leisurely activities, since Lord knows I’m not capable of sleeping at night, let alone midday. In just over a month, (I’m either proud to say or embarrassed to admit, not sure which yet) I have finished 7 novels and over 392 games of chess. (While the latter may not be an accurate figure, the former I know for sure because I read all my designated semester reading material and had to buy 2 more books). And smack-dab in the middle of exam week, what better utilization of today’s Siesta time then to study (NOT), update my journal.
As of late, stress has begun to pervade my newfound “tranquillo” mentality, much to my dismay. The culprit à the J School App. Yes, the deadline looms for entry into the coveted UW School of Journalism and come January, I hope to be one of 100 lucky Charlie’s with a golden ticket. Other related stressors have since hopped the bandwagon including spring enrollment (even harder to do when J-School fate is unknown), overseas transcript demands, necessary résumé tweaking, solidification of travel itinerary, and the like.
Above all else, I’ll note that I severely miss my mom. Seriously, I was struck with my first case of serious homesickness in the depths of flu-induced insomnia last night during a late-night bout of frantic coughing and heaving and vividly remember while expelling a tear, actually whimpering aloud “I want my mom.” I’m hoping to kick it soon but there’s a bug going around. And Mom, if you’re reading – yes, I looked into the flu shot and the student affairs coordinator is getting back to me.
Other than that, today marks an exciting day for a good friend and fellow American in the program, (Happy 21st Birthday Adrienne!) and our displaced, tight knit group will be celebrating tonight at the river and tomorrow at tapas preceding the clubs. My presence at both are conditional on my health developments but something tells me the unclenching grip of finished midterms tomorrow will provide a reserve of energy for my favorite nugget. (Note: not a birthday celebration without the troublesome trio.)
Lastly, more exciting travel plans are booked and underway and we all anxiously await the coming weekends…
This weekend: Home sweet home, Sevilla J
October 22nd-25th: Granada (I promised you I would during Honors Spanish 4, Ms. Kellen!)
October 29th-Nov 1st: Amsterdam – Halloween (can’t come soon enough)
November 5th-8th: Dublin, Ireland (also can’t come soon enough)
December 3rd-6th: London and Paris

*Intermediate weekends’ possibilities: Munich, Prague, Belgium, Switzerland, Vienna
So many options, so little time, too little money <-- (accepting donations, early Christmas presents, and early 21st birthday presents :) :) )

Friday, 9 October 2009

Oh those Spanish nights

8 October 2009 - 10:50pm
I write this journal entry with vigilant fingers as the sparkled purple polish dries on each fingertip (I never was good at holding still long enough for nailpolish to dry without smearing). I prepare for a Sevillan night out with a culmination of the funniest and most diverse Americans that could possibly be brought together under such nonconventional circumstances. With so much traveling already under my belt (3 countries in 3 weeks, not bad!) I excitedly watch the minutes pass until I meet up with the troublesome trio in our home base of Andalucía. Tonight’s itinerary includes Spanish pre-gaming (I have yet to see what that entails) followed by a night of romping at the discothèques (which might sound exuberantly nerdish to Americans but here, serves as a completely ubiquitous idiom). No time for details now, off I go! Updates of tonight’s shenanigans available tomorrow; exact time contingent on the hangover…

Thursday, 8 October 2009

And so the adventure has begun...

Today, the 8th of October, marks an exciting and welcoming milestone… one month since I’ve been living in Spain. So what changes have transpired? Have I grown with every monument sighting? Learned with every foreign exchange? In fact, yes; on both accounts and then some. However, I cannot begin to illustrate such information without first noting what has remained constant (and always will). As easily noted, this blog is meeting the World Wide Web and reaching the eyes of my loved ones as just stated, a MONTH after being abroad. I must admit to some feelings of guilt as an aspiring journalist who is seeing the most miraculous corners of the world and not writing every last account of it in excruciating detail. However, procrastination (or in my preferred, more optimistic terminology “best under pressure”) is not a characteristic easy to abandon and it must have managed its way through customs on my carry-on. But yet, something tells me that this is not exactly the phenomenon currently taking place. Procrastination as I know it is best visualized as long nights curled up at College Library, downing espresso by the truckload and finishing a paper, due at 8am to the sunrise over Lake Mendota. But such the case is not currently applicable; sure, I’m not writing as much as I’m used to (or would like to), but that isn’t to say there has been an excess of laziness or lack in my journalism (or passion therein). In my one month in Europe, I have done more travelling, praying, mental-writing, appreciating, reflecting, and thanking than I have in a lifetime. Here, I am free –free from hometown realities, student org responsibilities, G.P.A. shortcomings, social scene dramas, work burdens, newspaper worries, petty predicaments, and any other obstacle not categorically contained. It is both the most euphoric sovereignty and terrifyingly-honest testimony to the person I am and the person I can become.
And true to style, with my brush of symptomatic OCD characteristics, it is decidedly fitting to (finally) present my blog exactly one month into my journey (or enlightenment if you will). I’ve settled cozily into the “tranquilo” way of Spanish life, and found my niche in between the buzzing, busy days and still-heat, bustling nights. From here, as promised to my friends and family, I will work to update the happenings of these weeks passed and keep you all apprised on all future endeavors. And so the adventure has begun…

Below: the first international journal entry I wrote, in the plane-ride departing from Chicago en route to Espana (because of the scarcity of internet in Andalucía, most entries are written in Word and then later transferred to my blog upon availability of beloved Wi-Fi...)

My eyes slowly open as I wake from a calm nap, my body upright and my head turned slightly to the right. The nice man sitting three seats over is excitedly eating a portion of beef and vegetables. They must have served dinner. Still in a daze, I turn to the left and am instantly awestruck by a brilliant view through an ungenerous 1x2 airplane window. Illuminating thrashes of pink, purple, and gold engulf the expansive sky and wrap tightly around the Airbus in which I currently reside. Its pure magnificence momentarily freezes time and ignites a slideshow of explorative possibility before my very eyes. A conscientious flight attendant notes my absence during dinner and abruptly halts my whimsical daydreaming by offering food. I smile and answer “no gracias” to be offered coffee just minutes after. This time by an obnoxiously-good looking Spanish flight attendant who isn’t as satisfied with my polite refusal. “No? No coffee? No tea? Nothing? You’re fine?” I nod and smile and he courteously grins back, looking slightly disappointed that he could do nothing to improve my current condition. Interestingly, unlike America, Spanish flight attendants are predominantly male… and from the looks of this ethnic refreshment, no complaints here. I am left smiling to myself for a second and reality sets in. I am on a plane en route to Spain. To move, to travel, to live for four months. Sporadic thoughts and endless questions competitively race through my brain and… Okay, more Spanish flight Stuarts pass and they are ALL really, seriously good-looking. Hot enough to interrupt this completely profound and enlightening journal entry (ha-ha). And thoughtful too... after my first pineapple juice, I haven’t had to ask for another yet, they just keep ‘em coming. I like Spain already. My adventure has officially taken flight…