Thursday, April 22, 2010

¡Me voy!

I'm off for a month of traveling!!


Vaison la Romaine
Cinque Terra

I will have access to a computer at some points on the trip, so I will try to keep everyone posted! I will see Scott in two weeks and I am traveling with Ashley and Laura for most of the whole time, one or the other or both. I am feeling excited about living minimally out of my backpack for a whole month. I promise to journal and to take tons of pictures. Oh, I can't wait!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

¡Estoy aquí!

Well, well, well… where have I been??

What a fun-filled last couple of weeks! It’s been hot here in Valencia and we have been taking advantage of the bluer than blue skies. A couple of week ago the girls and I went to the beach in the camper of a good friend with his good friends who are now our good friends. This camper is straight out of a 1994 bluegrass festival and it gives me déjà vu to be in it. It has the same smell as my parents old Airstreamer. They cooked us a typical Spanish seafood dish called feddegua. It has a strong delicious saffron taste, but also a STRONG seafood taste. Like it’s straight out the sea. Very, very strong. We enjoyed ourselves immensely on the beach, which is covered of Easter-egg like pebbles. We found green and blue ones and pink and orange ones.

Mom and Lee came to visit Valencia the week after that. What a dream! They are so wonderful and to have them here was something special. Someone can see what I will be talking about the rest of my life. We went out to eat with my friends several times, talking about everything under the sun/moon depending on if it was lunch or dinner. They met my Spanish friends and I took them around my typical stomping grounds. Valencia really showed off for them, we had great weather the whole weekend. It was simply wonderful to see their faces.

And then Semana Santa happened! Ashley and Mary Claire and I had loose travel plans in Portugal so off we went. We took a train ride through Andalusia, which was quite something. The 22-year-old and 12-year-old brothers from Madrid that sat across from us were entertaining, the little one wanting to know about hot dogs and Halloween and The Simpsons. The landscape was intoxicating and ever changing. In Sevilla we learned that the bus to Tavira, Portugal were our friends were was full for that night. We bought tickets for the next day and left the train station in hopes of finding a hostel. Considering Sevilla is the busiest city in Spain during Semana Santa, we were quite lucky to find a room with three beds in a nice hostel for pretty cheap. We saw the Catholic processions, creepy enough with their hidden faces and pointy hats. Sevilla was beautiful during the day and smelled heavenly. The warmer weather had brought the orange blossoms out and there are parks full of flowers around every corner. A crazy woman to read Mary Claire's palm for five euros, a price that included a sprig of fake rosemary. There was a park along the river lined with people and wisteria. We sat in the sun in a floating cafe for an hour or so then hopped on our bus to Tavira.

Another small hiccup. We pulled through beautiful Tavira and into the bus stop. Readying ourselves to get off we noticed that the bus was not exactly stopping. Just kind of circling. And then driving away from the bus stop. Is there a second one? We wondered. Is he going to stop pretty soon, or what? Why is he getting back on the highway? After a slightly confused discussion (the Andalusian accent has a strange absence of the 's' sound for a language full of s's) we found ourselves in the next town up- Faro, Portugal. Faro is beautiful. Marine images everywhere and a sky-blue sky dotted with white puff clouds. Birds and salty air. We stayed there for an hour and a half and caught the next bus back to Tavira. There we met out four guy friends from the UGA program. Diego's family has a little house in the resort town outside of Tavira. It was beautiful and luxurious- a swimming pool, tons of old people, white washed cabins with cats lounging on the balconies, and kitchens! We cooked every morning and every night. The one full day we were there we laid on the beach all day, taking a boat across the little sound to get there. The next day we wandered around in the little ancient city of Tavira which features tulips and a bridge from the time of the Romans. It was a brief stay in resort paradise, but I was exciting to see real Portugal. Lisbon.

Lisbon is so cool. So so cool. The main part of the city is in a valley, flanked by two big hills. One of the hills is topped with an ancient castle surrounded by winding medieval streets. The other hill is the part of town with all the fun bars and restaurants. Every sidewalk in the town is intricately laid tile (apparently a huge city project that kept prisoners busy for decades) and the sky at night is absolutely blue. To be on the Atlantic again! What a history of maritime in the city. It's very crazy to think about Lisbon as the center of the world at one point. We saw Vasca da Gama's tomb. We climbed to the top of the ancient fortress that greeted sailor's coming back into port. We stood "where the land ends and the sea begins." 

Outside of Lisbon is a little dream world city called Sintra. We went for a day trip and loved it so much we came back the next day. It was the ancient summer destination of royalty of Lisbon and no wonder. Candy castles and the most beautiful moss-blanketed, secret-hiding, flower-blooming, stone-bridge-crossing, sequoia-surrounded-swan-pond park in the world. We were in heaven. I felt like a fairy princess. It was an authentic magic land. We could have stayed for days. 

Back in Valencia we showered (finally) and prepared for a short journey to Jérica, a little city north of Valencia in the Catalonia province. It felt like out west. Big orange cliffs, bright yellow flowers, tiny bubbling streams. There was an old barn with an old truck filled with an old crop of dried out lavender. We rubbed it all over our arms and neck and we smelled fantastic. We returned yesterday. We only have 10 or so days left in Valencia, my heart starting to break a bit. A good distraction is planning our month-long-voyage for after the program. France, Italy, Formentera, Andalusia, oh my! 

I have missed writing on my blog, but I assure you I have been journaling like a mad woman. All is wonderful, blissful, perfect.

Monday, March 15, 2010

El viente

This isn't real! The last couple of days have been completely unreal. Unreal! I had the best birthday of my life and am thrilled to be twenty.

Las Fallas is something indescribable. A bizarre and wild exhibition of lights, people from all over the world, discotecas in the streets, costumes and ninóts y hay un montón de gente  y verbenas and fireworks and petardos y ruido y locura y salir de fiestas y amanecer y las falleras y las amigas y una energía atenta y una ducha de las cenizas. My friends pulled out all the stops for me and bought a huge headdress for me to wear on my birthday nights. I felt special, special and I think I laughed for about eight hours straight with all of my friends. During the day we went out to lunch with friends and went to the beach and celebrated and celebrated and walked around the city marveling at the craziness. Walking around during Las Fallas is so absolutely bizarrely wonderful. Every plaza, big and small, has a brightly colored structure called a falla that is made of plaster and are usually five stories tall. They are intricately detailed and bulbously stylized. They are realistically rendered and creepily cartoonish. They are supremely precarious and architecturally constructed. Indescribable. Every one hundred yards you see another one, each more bizarre and wonderful, and there are over 300 in the city. Continue walking around... There are street vendors every where selling pañuelos and buñuelos and churros and helados and muñecas and patatas. People screaming and laughing and carrying on. Valencia is the second most advanced producer of fireworks in the world behind China. At two o'clock every afternoon there is a mascletá in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Thirty minutes before two o'clock people are moving as if pulled by a magnet to the center of town. Here the falla is paid for by government money (not private organizations of citizens like the others) and is the masterpiece of them all. There are over five figures, each dancing or looking crazy-eyed. The plaza is packed with people all anticipating for the fallera mejora (the most beautiful and kind woman in the city, supposedly) to say over the microphone, "Senor pirotecnic, pod comenzar la mascletá!" La mascletá is the loudest thing I will ever hear. It's synchronized NOISE. It is so LOUD. Smoke takes over the plaza and ashes rain down on your heads. It starts off slow and builds until the ground is shaking and your brain vibrates in your skull and everyone around you is in disbelief at what is going on. Your heart rhythms are changed. It sounds like one thousand cannons at the same time. It's strangely therapeutic. Indescribable. And it happens every day with increasingly amount of fervor each day. Today was the first day of it. Continue walking around... There are impromptu bands playing flutes and banging cymbals. Every cafe is packed and people are dressed up and excited. There are children wearing bandanas and dogs running around everywhere. People throw fireworks at will all around you. Indescribable. Continue walking around... At night there are random and open street parties with a live d.j. You can follow the sound of music around the neighborhood until you find one. People in the balconies above these streets come out and dance. People from all over and all affected by the energy of Las Fallas. Tonight is the first night of the giant firework show in el rio that happens every night at midnight. Just indescribable. 

Nineteen was great. What a great year! I lived in my own house for the first time, cooking and cleaning and paying bills and loving every minute of it. I discovered medical anthropology as a passion and pursuit in future education and career. I was constantly surrounded by wonderful warm souls of my friends and family. I have matured and grown and started developing a worldview influenced by living outside of my country for the first time. I have come to appreciate and love the culture I come from. There is something so fun about 19. But 20. I have been waiting for this one. I feel like I am going to love this decade of my life, and I am really going to take full advantage of it. I have big plans and ideas for this decade. What an absolute treat that the biggest party happening in the world right now started it all off!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Un día muy español

I had the most by-the-book Spanish day yesterday.

After class, three friends and I went to the open market by the beach. Endless stands full of flowers and clothes and underwear and mismatched shoes and kitchen supplies and sketchy objects. I bought a beautiful floral scarf for one euro. That afternoon several of us attended a bull fight. An actual, Spanish bull-fight. There are bull-fights all week for Las Fallas. I did not know how queasy it would make me feel, but I suppose all of the years at the hunting club in Moncks Corner as a little girl prepared me sufficiently. It felt so traditional, so Spanish. The people of my generation in Spain, and most people, pay no attention to this sport and it's supposedly a bit antiquated. The crowd was full of old men smoking cigars. But the colors and the energy! Tickets were divided into two sections: sol y sombra (sun or shade). We had sol tickets. 

The first fight: Before the bull is released, four or five men in sparkly outfits and tight, tight suits come out with pink and yellow capes. Their bright uniforms look fantastic against the backdrop of bright yellow dirt, especially when the sun grabs the attention of one of the millions of sequins they wear. The gate is opened. The massive animal charges out at full speed straight toward them. Huffing and puffing and angry. They divert his attention with their capes and then hide behind a little wall until the bull is distracted once again by one of their comrades on the opposite side of the ring. Waving and calling and confusing the bull. A man on a blind-folded horse comes out next, the horse's saddle is decadent. The bull rams against the horse as the rider stabs the bull's back with a spear. Cue the matador. The matador's back is arched dangerously because his chest is so full of pride. He is the sparkliest of them ALL. He carries two pipe looking things I soon realize are knives of some kind. The matador stomps and saunters into the middle of the ring, getting the attention of the tiring bull. The bull perks up and charges quickly towards it's shiny target. The matador jumps quickly, stabbing the two stakes into the bull's back, then instantly darting away from the angry bull. The other men come out with their flags to distract the bull once more. The bull is stabbed four more times in this manner, dark red blood thickening on it's back. It is completely weak and confused by the time the matador returns to the ring with his red cape. And so it begins. The elegant dance between them. He waves the red cape, the bull charges and they spin and it continues. There is a rhythm. The matador daringly drops to his knees and flourishes his cape as the bull charges around him, back and forth. The bull occasionally drops to his knees as well, but not to impress the crowd. The bull does it because it's tired and bleeding and constantly confused. Soon the matador is handed a sharp sword and a fresh red cape, which he whirls around a few more times before facing the bull. He lines up his silver sword dramatically with the center of the bull's back and lunges it deep between the shoulder blades. The bull stumbles and falls, but gets back up. The other men come out to wave their capes around it's head until the bull collapses completely. One of them finishes the job by stabbing the bull in the head. A chain is wrapped around the horns and two horses drag the dead, stiffened body off the ring. We watched three bulls get killed. Occasionally the matador would miss or mess up or something, and the bull would be stabbed repeatedly. The crowd would get angry when this happened. It's hard to watch after a while. Really hard to watch. It's very easy to be on the bull's side. I enjoyed the spectacle for the energy, the colors, the tradition, and the bluntness of it all. But it's safe to say I will not become an afecionada. These were also amateurs. If it had been the elegant Pedro Romano from The Sun Also Rises, it might be a different story. But there it was: The Famous Spanish Bull-Fight. 

Then I went to a fútbol game! A big one. Against Germans. A friend let me borrow her Valencia CF scarf and we were off. One of our teachers, Celia, who is wonderful, came with us. We were sitting very, very high up. We got there a bit after kick-off, thus we had to rush in. Flights and flights of stairs and the energy was palpable from everyone trying to find their seats. There was so much noise coming from within the stadium as the players were introduced. People were cheering wildly as they climbed up to their seats. We came out of the stairwell and into the stadium where I finally got a view of the field. The field is shockingly green, the stands shockingly full and excited, and the players shockingly far away. I got really into the game, cheering along with everyone and reacting appropriately when I didn't know what was going on. Che Xe Bo! Che Xe Bo! We tied the Germans, 1-1, but supposedly away goals count for more, so we lost. What a game though, full of excitement. We met up with all of our friends and went out on the town. A very, very Spanish day. 

I was woken up today by random loud explosives on the street, as I have been every day this week. Apparently it's only the beginning. Bring on Las Fallas!

Other news: I bought my tickets to go to Portugal for Semana Santa! Our friend's family from the program has a beach house right on the southern coast and Ashley and I plan on spending time there before hopping towards Lisbon and Porto. Also bought a plane ticket from Paris to Rome for very cheap to meet Scott in Italy this May. What a dream... a ticket from Paris to Rome to hang out with one of my favorite people in the world. ¡Que suerte tengo!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Düsseldorf und Cologne

I get along with Germany very well!

Ryanair is a necessary evil. That's the airline we used to fly to Germany. Tickets are so cheap, 40 euro round trip, but you get what you pay for. The seats don't recline and they don't turn the lights off for night time flights. Also, the destinations they fly to aren't exactly what they claim to be. For example, the flight into "Düsseldorf" is actually a flight to a small airport an hour outside of the city. So we flew, then took a bus to the train station, then took a train into town, then took a taxi to the hostel. It was like Richard Scarey's book on transportation. I was expecting a boat ride at some point, but luckily we did not have to go that far. 

We are so accustomed to Spanish hours that we assumed things would be open at one o'clock in the morning when we got there. However the area around our hostel was completely deserted. We thought no one lived there! It was dark and cold and we could not tell how beautiful the city was quite yet. We went to bed relatively early and got plenty of sleep for the next day. 

It was snowing when we woke up. Germany is absolutely frigid cold right now. Looking at the map, I realize that Düsseldorf is the highest latitude I have ever been to. It's more or less at the same level as Quebec. The city is wealthy and everyone was wearing fur coats and shiny shoes. Most everyone was tall and beautiful and blonde and so German looking. The language is so fun to listen to, so strange and funny even. It is like hearing English, but harder and smooched together, and pronounced wrong, or something. We kept reading signs out loud just to hear ourselves trying to speak it. We walked though the Hofjardin, which is the oldest public park in Germany. Germany is very green and very gray this time of year. Giant trees and statues and lamp posts throughout the park. Ponds and tons of birds, swans and ducks, and other little colorful birds. Winding pathways around drooping green trees. We walked through the park to the Altstadt (Old Town). A lot of the city was destroyed during WWII, but this part of the city is preserved. Picturesque, movie-set-like, Germany. We walked all around, trying to stay warm, and we stumbled, more or less, on the Rhine. The mighty Rhine! It flows quickly and quintessential German towers and houses line the opposite shore. How surreal to have been standing on the bank of the Rhine. 

We ate a bratwurst! I covered mine with Sarachi sauce! It was VUNDERFUL. The Altstadt is known for being the "longest bar in the world"; there are over 500 pubs in a small area. After lunch and resting we went to the Rheinturm, a 240 meter high TV tower. At the top you can see for miles and miles, with factories in the distance; the Rhine bisects the panoramic view. The glass is slanted outwards and it is quite terrifying to lean against it. We grabbed refreshments and relaxed up in the sky for a while. Afterwards, we walked through the city to the ritzy shopping district. Germany's Next Top Model is filmed in the city and hosted by Heidi Klum. There are pictures of her scantily clad on every corner. It made you cold to look at her in the frigid weather. We wandered upon an open air market with flowers and flowers. German tulips! Some man gave us a free truffle and I bought honey soap. We rested up at the hostel in the evening and went out on the town that night. Some of us got Thai food for dinner. My system was craving the spice, and green curry hit the spot. There was a surprising amount of Asian influence here, many restaurants and Asian themed bars. I saw the image of Buddha many more times than Christian images. That night we ended up at a really incredible club that used to be a train station. It was lined with aquariums and the music selection was incredibly fun. They played Motown (??) and The Roots. 

The next morning we packed our things and checked out of the hostel. We got on a train to Cologne, which is only about 30 minutes away. We accidently got on the express train, so it took us about 10. We lucked out! Right when you get out of the train stations, you see IT. The cathedral. The imposing, terrifying cathedral. It took six centuries to build. It miraculously survived 14 bombings during WWII, but it was not completely unaffected. The entire facade is charred black. The towers were topped with snow and the sky was dark. Literally breath-taking. The structure is massive. The main room inside is a giant arched room with stained glass lining every wall. One has to look straight up to see all of the ceiling, your eyes follow the curved arches for seemingly miles. The sun was shining through a particular stained-glass window. It had thousands of squares in rows and columns, each of a different rich color. It looked like candy. The colored light on the opposite wall danced when the sun was out, disappearing for minutes at a time when the sun went behind a cloud. Ashley and I watched for a long time, waiting for the sun to come out so we could take pictures of the ocean-like lighted wall. I sat at a pew for a long time, soaking in the spirits. 

We paid the 1 euro to climb up the main tower of the cathedral. A claustrophobia inducing winding staircase, over 500 stone steps depressed in the middle from centuries of patrons. Up and up with an occasional glance out of a window at the tiny people below. Up and up and up. We got to an outdoor platform and looked around. Through the gothic stone cathedral parts you could see the incredible city below. In the middle of the platform was a metal staircase, slick with ice and snow. The frigid wind was blowing and you could see the earth forever below you. We challenged ourselves and climbed up. I am not usually affected by heights, but I was gripping HARD on the railing and I got jelly legs. It was completely worth the skipped heartbeats to be on top of the tallest cathedral in Europe. 

We bought tickets to get on the touristy bus that would take us around Cologne. It's "Hop On, Hop Off" and their is a headset telling you all about the various attractions and history of the city. Oh, there is the oldest Protestant church in Germany. What's that? It's the remains of the ancient Roman fortress that surrounded the city. Surreal, surreal, surreal. We hopped off at the Chocolate Museum, Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. There was a large factory and chocolate tasting and drinking hot chocolate white sitting on the Rhine. Just lovely. 

We hopped back on the bus and crossed over the Rhine at sunset. The bridge we crossed over was the original site of the first bridge built in Cologne, in 300 AD. 300 AD!! 300 AD!!!! I can't believe it. Ancient Roman houses remained, narrow because the people were taxed based on the width of their house. 90% of the city was destroyed during WWII, but what remains was enough to give me a pit in my stomach from the feeling of ancientness. The sun would occasionally line up perfectly between the two towers of the cathedral. 

We rested at a pub where a bachelor's party was taking place. Drunk Germans are entertaining and even more friendly than sober ones. He was dressed in woman's leiderhosen and a giant blond wig. He has a tray around his neck with tiny scrolls of paper. He told us to pick one and open it. Some of them had a winning message, in which case you had to take a shot with the groom-to-be. We got back on the train/bus/taxi/airplane combo that night. We had to spend the night in the airport because the last train was at midnight, but our flight did not leave until 7 in the morning. Honestly, it was was pretty miserable. There were hardly in seats in this tiny airport and the floor was cold and their was this obnoxious kid's ride that played a creepy melody every three minutes. We were all entirely exhausted and I think I died on my bed for about 9 hours straight on Sunday. I woke up to eat dinner and to write in my journal, then slept straight through this morning. 

Germany is wonderful. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

¡Me voy!

I am off to Germany! I have packed a lot of layers, apparently it's supposed to be pretty chilly. What will Germany be like?! I would like to eat a bratwurst and go to Cologne, this much I know. 

Went to an incredible Picasso exhibit earlier this week. What a crazy man. We saw his California Workshop series, about 30 paintings of the same exact view of his workshop, but in different colors and moods and some of the things on the desks were rearranged. I loved it. 

¡Me voy!

Monday, March 1, 2010


So. Barcelona.

My journal from the bus ride there:

**Orange trees ignored in craggy meadows, as if they were weeds in a garden. Other scruffy trees with the beginnings of flowers- white, purple, yellow, muted colors. Some trees get in line following small creeks that undoubtedly widen where I see a village in the distance.  Mountains cone out of the landscape, small white dots for houses are sprinkled in clusters. The mountains remind me of those in New Mexico but smaller. They are out of nowhere and covered in what looks like sage. But this is a completely different part of the world and these mountains are on a completely different set of tectonic plates, related like puzzle pieces. There are small stone buildings near each of the towns, churches perhaps. A man on a motorcycle is riding along the ”frontage road” of the highway, a hilly dirt road leading into the mountains. Mountains are to the left of me and large green agriculture fields are to the right. What are those isolated stone huts in the center of the fields? They look ancient. A steep and small cliff wall acts as the fourth side to a wooden fence; black and white cows are the residents. There is a small herd of sheep going somewhere along a side road. Some stray to eat leaves off orange trees. Then out of nowhere- the blue, blue sea. Mountains seemed to unveil it like a stage at the beginning of a show. Sparkling waters show themselves occasionally, each time a shocking reminder that I am bumping along the Mediterranean, the ancient center of human activity. I can hardly believe I am going to Barcelona, the quote unquote coolest city in the world.**

I need more time there. Only one full day was a joke, a cruel tease! I feel like I barely dipped my pinkie toe in and I want to be at least waist deep. The main difference of Barcelona to Valencia is the amount of people. At five o’clock in the evening in Valencia there is a good handful of people out, but many of the stores are closed and people are returning to work from siesta. At five o’clock the streets of Barcelona are packed. People everywhere, down every side street, and all going somewhere. Our hotel was right in the main plaza of the city, which probably had a lot to do with it, but there was a strikingly large amount of people out and about. The hotel we stayed in was nice. Really nice. My friend Mary Claire somehow ended up with a really swank room on the highest floor by herself. Ashley and I quickly moved our things into her room. The view! Wow. I felt like a rock star waking up the next day with our windows open to early morning Barcelona outside. Friday night we all ate dinner together and went to explore a bit of the city. The winding streets around our hotel were hip, restaurants and thrift stores and bars and nice jewelry stores. We met a friend of a guy in our program who is currently studying in Barcelona and he showed us around a bit.

The next morning at ten we had a bus tour of the city. The streets are so beautiful. The buildings are so intricate and big and old and the iron work is grand. I wanted to explore each street we crossed over. We stopped at Tibidado, the mountain that looks over the city. Our view of Barcelona was capped by fog. It was kind of haunted looking with mountains looming in the distance and the delicate city below. I was thinking about how many generations of people had come to this city to work, to fish, to trade, to raise a family, to explore, to discover, to meet people, to travel.  Humans from all ages of time, even from before our own species, have been drawn to this location. It makes me feel SO SMALL, like a tiny pixel in time. 

Next we went to Parque Guell. This park, oh this park! I could have spent ages there. Gaudí was a genius to say the absolute least. My teacher told me he was an introvert, honest and humble, and profoundly religious. He lived minimally and was considered a great man. He must have had the craziest dreams; his works make Dr. Suess illustrations seem plausible. Winding lines, tiled surfaces, unique perspectives, mimicry of nature, but not a nature I have ever seen. It was, for the lack of better words, totally psychedelic. And these things were built almost a hundred years ago. Can you imagine seeing these things one hundred years ago? His visions were so unreal, but they were there in front of me. I want a giant quilt made of all the tiles in the park. Incredible.

Then- La Sagrada Familia.  I still feel like that was not real. A massive and intricate and elegant and mind-blowing structure. To think of the relationship Gaudí must have had with his God to have created something like this makes my mind see stars. And it’s not even finished! He died before the project was completed, but he knew that it would never be finished before he died, so he left many plans and drawings. The people who are working on it now know WHAT they are supposed to do, but the cleverest people cannot figure out HOW to do it exactly. The finished product seems light-years away when looking at the plans. The head of the organization in charge of finishing the cathedral has no clue when it will be done. Hopefully in my lifetime. My words cannot begin to describe what I saw and it is daunting task to attempt to do it justice at all. A must-see for all.

That night we all went out for dinner and to test out the infamous night-life of Barcelona. The whole group ended up at Razzmatazz, a discoteca so immense that it has it’s own subway stop.  Five separate clubs all attached, each with different music and atmosphere and about 2000 people. So overwhelming! People stay there until 8 in the morning, but after about two hours we had definitely had enough.

Barcelona has a strange feeling about it. Absolutely incredible and lively and beautiful, but completely bizarre. I think it is telling that Gaudí is responsible for the city’s masterpieces, because they can also be described as completely bizarre. Beautiful, but bizarre. It is a port city and we were in the middle of the biggest tourist area, so I did not feel like I was in Spain at all. I did not speak Spanish the whole time. People everywhere and people doing strange things. I was never scared, but taken aback and shocked plenty of times.  For me, Barcelona is somewhere incredible to visit, but I don’t think I would want to live there. Valencia has so much to do and see, but it can be calming if you need it to be. Barcelona is seemingly never calm. I would love to return and see the other areas of the city.

Valencia is starting to feel like spring. Rebirth and renewal! Las Fallas officially starts on March 14 (my birthday!), but in reality it started today, the first day of the month of Las Fallas. Plans for this giant festival begin the day after it ends the previous year. Lights have been up for two weeks or so, spanning across every street. Construction in Plaza de la Virgin ended yesterday and I am seeing that plaza properly for the first time. The sky is bluer than I thought possible and the sun shines brightly all day. I heard several people whistling in the street on my way to school this morning. I can already tell there are more people than usual in the city and there is a palpable sense of anticipation for the upcoming festival. Las Fallas is religiously based, but it also celebrates the arrival of spring. The city is changing; I can feel it! It is making me think of spring at home and family and Easter and church and what we would be eating after church and what dress Scottie will be wearing and it makes me miss home a bit. I got a package today from Ann and I am utterly thrilled! A pillow and CHEEZ-ITS and candy and vitamins and boots! Wow!

All is beautiful in Valencia and I feel whole and happy and blessed. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

La calma antes la tormenta

Everyone has been relatively taking it easy this week. I believe the students in our program are preparing for this weekend--- Barcelona. I simply can't believe I am going to Barcelona tomorrow. The description in my travel book of Spain was enough for me to know that I will absolutely be in love with the city. A city divided by a street, Las Ramblas, which is always brimming with action. Apparently there is a draw bridge, mountains, and beach, and street performers, and modernista architecture in which every piece of various buildings is completely unique. I will keep my eyes and ear peeled and I will take notes and pictures and mental snapshots of everything. I already wish I had more time there. 

For culture class we had a big project to complete for today. It was a scavenger hunt that sent us throughout the entire city, asking questions, taking pictures, buying snack foods, and documenting what we saw. I learned many things. There is a common saying around here, a la luna de Valencia, which refers back to the time when the city was walled. They closed the gates at a certain time every night and if travelers did not make it in time they would have to sleep outside the gates until morning, under the Valencian moon. Now people use it when referring to going out late. Parts of this wall still exist, some of which are Arab ruins. We had to discover the parts of the outfits worn by falleros y falleras, or those involved in Las Fallas festival. One authentic complete woman's outfit can run upwards of 15,000 euros, including earring and a necklace dripping with pearls, like a bunch of grapes. Hair is braided and woven into three large buns pinned with gold and silver needles. The skirts depict images and are immense and elaborate, heavy silk embroidered with gold and silver. We had to buy a few food items from the market, including Christmas candy, some sausage-y item, and these encased moist nuts that easily shoot across the room when first trying to uncover them. We learned that things that are considered to be bad luck here are the same things that cause bad luck in the states (black cat, walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, etc.) save for one thing, looking into the eye of a one-eyed person. That puts too much pressure on the one-eyed population of Spain, if you ask me.

Of my ten-or-so non-student friends living in Valencia, two of them have been recently fired. Times are really economically rough here right now. Something like 40% of the population in Valencia is unemployed, a shockingly high number.

I am trying to pick up a little bit of the Valenciano language, a mix of Spanish and French more or less. It's spoken in the region between the two countries. All the street signs and signs in my building are written in this language, and a lot of my new friends are natives and speak it as well. I can pick up words here and there, but it a completely different language. People here speak at least two languages, most of them around three. A lot of them speak English here and there. Mateo, a friend from the cafe we frequent, learned most of his English listening to American music. He is a huge Wilco fan and always wants us to talk about lyrics. 

It's another beautiful day. I am sitting in a little cafe about to study for my film mid-term that I have tomorrow morning. A crazy old woman just walked by the window wearing at least three aprons and striped socks with heels. A couple, both wearing North Face jackets, is sitting at a table in the courtyard, a sure sign they speak English. Some of the French doors of apartments in the plaza are open wide, letting in the slight breeze that moves the potted flowers on their balconies on it's way in. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010




Friday night Ashley and I went out with some friends to a small bar. We were crammed into the back corner in the upstairs, the ceiling just about touching my head. Ashley and I have to basically crawl to get back there. The walls were wooden with framed pictures of friends of someone's on every square inch of it. At the table next to us were two men, one of whom pulled out a guitar. We got a private concert of classic Spanish guitar playing. Ashley and I had to look at each other often for reassurance that we were not in a dream. We met some UGA friends at a dance club and boogied on the dance floor. The waiters we had gone out with from the night before were at the same club and had a mutual friend with the friends we had come with. Small world! Un mundo pequeno! It was a wonderful night. 

Saturday's day trip to Requena was also wonderful. Requena is a small village about an hour inland from Valencia. We took the train through the Spanish country side, passing what looked like sink-holes. There were mountains in the distance and an overall desert-like landscape, orange sand and rocks with scrubby bushes scattered around. We went to a wine-tasting, my first. The whole complex smelled like wine and we were led into a room with stacks and stack of barrels, patiently holding the future products of the next room. Stacks and stacks and rows and rows of corked wine bottles. The wine waits there some more and then goes to the tasting room. We walked around the village and there was a small outdoor market. There were tons of people dressed in costumes to celebrate Carnival. The little fellow in the pictures is dressed as "Spiders man". We walked around the historic district, which in this case means it's THOUSANDS of years old. So much to see every day! 

Last night, three of us went to a small concert of a band called Emma Get Wild from Valencia. I had read a review of them in a small magazine and reportedly they sound like Wilco. We had to check them out. The pub they were playing in was small and packed. They did kind of sound like Wilco, but the lead singer was a girl and she was Spanish. They sung in English, great lyrics with no accent really. They had a country, folky feel. I was reminded of home, being in a small bar seeing this band. We called it an early night and I feel completely rested this morning. Later today we are going to the beach, and hopefully back to that restaurant we went to last time. I look forward to the good food and good company!

The cathedral picture is in Valencia. This cathedral is about a five minute walk from where I live. It houses the only officially recognized Holy Grail. Pretty unreal...

Friday, February 19, 2010


This week has been nice. Relaxing, routine, a bit rainy, and plenty of reading and writing. 
Yesterday afternoon, Ashley, Laura and I went to our favorite little cafe to do some homework. Ken, the English tutor from Georgia, was there teaching a lesson. We chatted and he asked us for cultural updates about the United States to tell his students. He joined our table when his lesson was over. We all got to talking and eating and drinking and talking and talking and eating and drinking. The two guys that were working that night, Paul and Paco, are both students of his, so they occasionally joined us. We spoke Spanish and English. We had an incredibly delicious Spanish version of cheese sticks, little chunks of crispy fried brie on top of a cranberry marmalade. We had little green peppers, roasted and salty. Of course we had patatas bravas, one of the better ways to prepare potatoes, fried and topped with spicy red sauce and aioli. Ken left at about closing time but we ended up staying after to talk some more and to listen to music with the waitstaff. They had Bob Dylan on someone's iPod and we all sang along. Different accents, same lyrics. They wanted us to sing the Fresh Prince of Bel-air theme song. The translated version of this song is one of the funniest things I have ever heard. They think it is WAY COOL to do the high-five, snap sequence. 
We all went out afterwards to one of our favorite bars. It was kind of a neat moment. We had to put up our study stuff in our rooms, so we told them we would meet them somewhere. We were able to easily make plans to meet at El Negrito. Because we know where it is. Because we live here. 
Meeting people is so interesting here. They truly have a different point of view of the world and a different mentality of thinking. They want to talk about the same things we talk about at home: movies, books, music, friends, going out, etc. But it's all slightly different in a way that's hard to explain. I am speaking in Spanish all the time. Learning new words and phrases and mannerisms. I am telling jokes, kind of, and understanding more and more. In some ways I feel like I am going through a reconnection with myself. Does this sound to dramatic or cheesy? I generally know how I am perceived at home, because we are all speaking the same language and my mannerisms are always appropriate and I know the social norms. When I first got here I felt like I was forced to project a different image because of my lack of vocabulary and understanding. I relied mostly on body language and facial expressions. As I learn more and understand more, I can slowly but surely become more myself through my words. I can more adequately express who I am now than I could three weeks ago. A reconnection with my outward self, but the Spanish-speaking version.

Tomorrow we go on an excursion to Requena, a small medieval village inland from Valencia. We will go wine-tasting and then to the famous cave system there. I will definitely be taking pictures and will post them ASAP. Un abrazo fuerte. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Está lloviendo...

Mary Claire's mom and sister came into town on Sunday night and took a couple of us out for tapas and drinks. It was so wonderful seeing someone's family members and it made me really excited to see some of mine soon! I am currently planning my three-day birthday party in Andalucia. My birthday happens to be the first day of Las Fallas, one of the biggest festivals in Europe and the pride of Valencia. Apparently the population of city triples in size and one can hardly go anywhere. Little boys will throw fire works at you and injuries are not rare. It lasts the whole week, the most important days being the final weekend. A couple of us are getting out of town for a couple of days at the beginning of the week. Can't wait to see some more of this beautiful country.

It's been rainy rainy rainy here the last couple of days, meaning a lot of relaxing in cafés and getting some homework done. I have a big group presentation tomorrow in film class about Spanish historical documents, a paper about that crazy action movie we saw, and a short presentation about the Basque country on Thursday. It seemed like we did not have any work at all, until this week. It's kind of nice to have some assignments. I am also reading a novel for literature class called Soldados de Salamina. It's about la Guerra Civil and a particular socialist leader who's life was spared by a stranger. The narrator is a reporter and an author and is becoming obsessed with trying to figure out who that stranger was. I am pleasantly surprised how much I can read and understand in Spanish. Reading is a great way for me to pick up the language, because I can visualize the syntax and learn words easily through context.

In Spain most of the young people have a Facebook account, but everyone has a Tuenti account. Tu-en-ti, pronounced like twenty, means you-in-yourself. Anyway, I got an account! It's kind of fun because it tells you how many times people view your profile. 

Ashley and I found a place that offers a burrito, guacamole, and a mojito for cheap on Wednesdays. You can bet your bottom euro we will be there tomorrow night...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

¿Donde está el fin del universo?

Have you heard of Agua de Valencia? It’s really one of the more delicious drinks ever invented. Ashley, Laura and I discovered this Friday night. Fresh squeezed orange juice, white wine, and vodka. The bar around the corner is famous for it, and one can see why easily. It comes in a big glass jar and lots of pulp sticks to the surface of the container as you pour it. I had the best time with Ashley and Laura. We sat around a table for nearly three hours. We laughed over everything and talked about how surreally incredible the trip has been so far. We danced and sang the words to the funny selection of American songs that came on.  We talked to the people next to us, and met a really cool girl from the city of Buñot, where the largest tomato fight in the world takes place every summer.

The next morning, Ashley and I met Ken, the old man tutor, at the café for a Spanish lesson. It was so funny to talk to him about the things we noticed around us, the differences and similarities, the people and their customs. He nearly fell out of his chair when we started talking about grits. He hadn’t heard the word in over fifteen years, since he was in Atlanta last. He missed them even more than we did. He asked funny questions to prompt us speaking, like “Where does the universe end?” We asked him something we had been wanting to know. The young people hold a certain unexplainable reputation about American girls. They think we are crazy. We ask them what kind of crazy, and they cannot explain it.  Ken says that American girls, and guys for that matter, have a tendency to think more. He was not insulting in any way to the Spanish, but was just stating it as a cultural fact. There are things about the Spanish culture, like their strict eating times, that are cemented into daily lives by tradition over dozens of generations. Everyone eats at two o’clock in the afternoon, everyone. When do we eat in America, he asked. When we are hungry, we answered. He said that’s what makes us crazy! I never really realized this about America. I have so much freedom and liberty on a daily basis that I don’t even think about. Strict cultural binds do not hold me back from small things that are simply second nature here, like when to eat, or from big things, like career choices. I have the option to think about anything I want at any time, and I could even write it down and then publish it if I wish. I can take any classes I want and groom them to fit my own personal goals. If independent thinking is what makes me a crazy American girl, then sign me up for the loony bin.

MTV Valencia Winter was last night. The Arctic Monkeys played. I had no idea how big they were in Europe. I haven’t heard their name in the states in over five years. There were at least 20,000 people at the free concert they gave. Masses and masses of people. The stage was in the middle of the architecturally modern and space-ship-like complex I wrote about earlier. There were five of us in my group, and we were actually really close to the stage. There were giant TV screens and the light show was incredible. Apparently the lead singer is half of the biggest celebrity couple in Britain and most of Europe. This was one of the coolest places I ever seen a concert. We were surrounded on our sides by two giant white stunning buildings, with their undulating lines. Purple lights shone on them. Behind us was the giant sculpture that looks like a mix between a sail boat and a harp. Beyond that more buildings. I can't imagine what it would be like to play there, considering how incredible it was to be in the audience. It was so interesting to see the differences between huge concerts here and huge concerts in the states. The chatter you hear between bands sounds different. The people are so much shorter, we felt like giants. The fist pump is a classic move to accompany any dancing at American shows, and here everyone holds up one finger, pointing up, while dancing. Another very strange thing: the Spanish people speak English with a British accent. We had noticed this before when one of our teachers spoke English. But it was more pronounced than ever when the crowd started chanting “Auu-teeck Moon-kees! Auu-teeck Moon-kees!” Definitely one of the best concerts I have ever been too and I don’t even particularly like the music.

This morning the park was lively. Sunday mornings are perfect for going to the park. In Athens it’s really hard for me to go running because of all those hills, but here it’s nice and flat and everyone is running and the park is so nice and there is so much to look at and I feel invigorated by it. There is a main path through the park but there are four or five subsequent paths running parallel to the main one. It’s quite a task to navigate. Is one for dog walkers? Is one for bikers? Is one for people with children? The fact that there is a set pattern is obvious, but the pattern itself is not clear. There is construction going on in the plaza I run through to get to the park. The chaos of the machines and the vibrations from the jack hammers on the marble sidewalks have caused oranges to fall from the orange trees that line the middle of the plaza. Many of the fallen ones bust on impact with the hard ground while others get stomped on by the people working their way to the other side of the construction zone.  You can smell the oranges from 200 feet away; their scent fills the air around the plaza. 

Friday, February 12, 2010


This afternoon, Ashley, Laura and I went to my favorite café, the one in the picture, to catch up on some reading and some writing. We sat at a table next to a table with an old man and two young men. We realized quickly that the old man was American and he was tutoring the two young guys in English. He was explaining the 70s to them, with a discussion of racial tensions and the different movements of the time. After a while, the old man turned to us. He asked if we were American and said he could tell because of our accents and because of the excitement in our voices. He then asked if we would please explain the word "funky" to his students. Haha! Well, we explained, funky can be good or bad. Good, for example, in "This song is so funky, it makes me want to dance!" Or bad in "You smell funky..." We then felt compelled to explain that funky is an out-dated word, but is not uncommon to hear. I never thought so much about funky. It made me think more. There are so many nuances to language, it is seemingly impossible to be completely fluent in a language you did not grow up hearing. Not to be discouraging to myself and my goal to know the Spanish language, but there are just SO many variations and idioms in speech. Like the English word "pretty." First it's an adjective for cute, lovely, etc. But then there's the whole other world of pretty. "Pretty good" seems worse than good, while "pretty awesome" seems better than awesome. Not only am I thinking of Spanish all the time, but I am thinking about English more than I ever have as well. How many times do we use "get" or "got" in everyday speech? So many times. It's not a word we write with, but we say it all the time. I got that. Can I get you one? Last night got crazy! I get excited thinking about it. Get got get got... how does anyone learn these things?! 

Anyway, the old man's name is Ken. He is from Decatur, Georgia, where about 40% of my friends at school are from. He moved to Valencia 20 years ago and has not looked back since. He is apparently one of the best tutors in town. He asked us to cut in many times in his lesson, and we were happy to do so. We are invited back any time to speak Spanish and to speak English to others. 

We went out for tapas this afternoon with the group. I ate mejillones, papas bravas, chorizo, pimientos, aceitunes rellenos, and several other interesting bites. There was some black rice, apparently made with sheep's blood that tasted like something a goblet would want to eat. It was refreshing and much appreciated to get out in the city to eat! 

We met a bunch of people last night from Liverpool, Sydney, and Belgium. The guy from Liverpool had his master's in American history, interestingly enough. He knew all the president's in order and couldn't stop talking about the most recent election and the current political situation. It was great to hear his positive perspective of the United States. 

I am about to get dressed and go out on the town. It's pretty cold tonight, so hopefully the group will want to stay close. Un abrazo fuerte!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tiempo y espacio

In composition class today I learned something new, or rather something old in a different way. Our teacher began the class with a slightly convoluted metaphor about space and time and sailboats and humans and language. Not sure exactly, but he did say one thing I picked up on. Humans think in terms of time, not space. According to him it's because there is only one dimension of time, and space has three to worry about. We speak of a "space of time", but never a "time of space." He continued by explaining how in language there is not only the absolute past, present, and future, but also relative time. You can talk about things that are not present, but are before the future, during the future, and after the future. For example, "When I get to Valencia, I will have read that book." Or "When I get to Valencia, I will be reading that book." Or "When I get to Valencia, I will be going to read that book." Did I explain this correctly? Anyway, all this in Spanish. A new perspective of tenses! 

Culture class today was really great. We learned about the prehistory of Spain, so the early early humans roaming around Valencia. This is right up my alley, and I had a lot to say to the class. She finished the class by playing clips of American songs, that have "hidden Spanish" lines embedded within the lyrics. In reality, the words in the song sound like Spanish, but are not. In Michael Jackson's Billie Jean he says "But the kid is not my son." To the Spanish population, Michael is clearly saying "Quieres una mazana?" Do you want an apple? It was hilarious...

Some of us went to Corte Ingles (a giant department store that sells most everything) to try to buy a board game. American games, like Apples to Apples and Monopoly, ranged from 45 to 70 euros! Ugh! And Harry Potter Scene It was 80 EURO. Needless to say, we did not buy a board game. We settled on a cheap puzzle and we have been working on it ever since. At Corte Ingles, I made another great purchase: peanut butter. Oh it's so good! In truth, I have been missing American food. If I could afford to go out and eat really wonderful Spanish tapas every day, that would be a different story. Or if I had a kitchen and could cook! But we are forced to enjoy the cuisine offered by the cafeteria. There are always french fries and always bread, which I never eat a lot of at home. The salad is good, and usually the soup is good. It's OK. But not particularly satisfying. All the UGA kids want to find a Mexican restaurant around here...

Today is beautiful again! But windy! Tonight some of us are going to a Dent May concert. He is actually from Mississippi, and I used to play him at the radio station all the time. He is playing at another dorm in the city for free. I am excited to see what kind of crowd shows up. This weekend there is a lot going on with the America's Cup, so I will hopefully be hanging out at the sea! The sea! The sea!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Me parece hogar

How do the animal parts look today, Austin?

El Mercado Central makes me want an apartment and a kitchen and a grocery list. I want to buy things to make dinner here and take them back in one of those pull carts that everyone seems to have. I want to ask the old man behind the counter, barricaded by spiky artichokes and deep red sausage, how much he's asking for the fresh goat cheese. I want him to recognize me and give me the regular-customer-discount. I want to know all the Spanish words for all the different kinds of marine edibles. I want to know how to cook with the spices they offer here. I want to know which wines go with which slabs of meat. I want to eat baked goods bought here for breakfast, wrapped in brown paper and tied off with string. 

The top picture is of one of my favorite new hang-outs. Right on the way to the market, this cozy little café is always filled with people who are concentrating. Concentrating on the paper, El País or Lecante, and their café cortado. Concentrating on their company, leaning dangerously inward towards each other, with a pint of beer or a glass of wine. Concentrating on their problems, talking things out with the wizened bar tender. I concentrate on them. 

In exchange for a Friday without classes, we had to go as a class Sunday night to the big theatre in town, LYS, to see Celda 211. In America it seems, or at least where I am from, things are built out, as opposed to up. Valencia has no room for this, thus the theater is ten stories tall with about three movies playing on each floor. Rebecca and I convinced each other rather easily to get popcorn and a Coke, in order to get the entire movie experience. The coke had no ice, of course, but it was cold and the popcorn was good. This movie is a new action flick about a brand new police officer who gets intricately involved in a jail riot against his will. The riot starts while he is getting his orientation session, and he manages to stay alive for most of the movie by pretending to be a new prisoner. Spanish film is much more graphic than American film, which I was not expecting. I closed my eyes most of the film and learned many bad words. 

This afternoon we are going to the Museum of the Torros, which should also be pretty graphic. I have nearly finished Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I hope to get some visuals to match his poignant descriptions of the intense relationship Spain has with bulls and bull fighters.