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 cafĂ©/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.

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