Wednesday, January 27, 2010

La primera semana

¡Hola hola todo el mundo!

I decided to set up a blog so everyone back home knows what I am up to every day! A lot of the other students are doing the same thing and I will try to update as often as possible. 

It is currently 7:30 in the evening and I am sitting in a small cafe with my good friend Ashley. It is dimly lit and there are books lining all the walls. We just ordered café con leche, which I drink every day.  Outside the large windows, there is a bicycle shop across the narrow alley that you wouldn't believe cars could drive down, but they do, and very quickly. Across from the bicycle shop is a small plaza lined with potted orange trees and red flowers that are everywhere in this city. There is a large marble monument of some valiant Spanish historical figure looking at me, his back facing a sun-worn bright yellow wall. Balconies of dark iron are set into this wall, each with large ivy-laden plants weighing them down. People bustle by to the various shops on the street, which will all stay open until around nine o'clock tonight when people will go home to start cooking dinner. Some stop in at bakeries whose windows are loaded with piles of delicious items, usually golden and involving bread. There are motorcyclists, dog walkers, business men, artsy folks, and students filling the tables. And they are all SPANISH! Because I am in SPAIN! Valencia is like a dream. 

We started classes earlier this week at the University of Valencia. I have four classes, all of which I love so far. Advanced composition with a perfect old Spanish man who spent the hour and a half lauding vino, olivios, pan, y la sobremesa. I am taking Spanish literature of the twentieth century with a bohemian, rock and roll type of professor who wants to dedicate the first fifteen minutes of each class hearing what about our experiences in his town. I am taking Spanish film, with a crazy young lady who actually studied at UGA, and she speaks very quickly. I am taking a modern culture class from a hip young teacher, and she is basically going to educate us in the ways of not making fools of ourselves over the next couple of months. They speak Spanish the entire time. It is completely invigorating to understand everything they are saying! I can hear the language very well, and am picking up on the Valencian dialect. The goal is to speak as well as I can hear it...

The dorms we are staying in are beautiful, old, and quite nice. The first day we walked up was pretty silly. All forty of us had to march with all of our things about a half mile down a tiny street because the bus could only get us so close. Here come the Americans! We are in the same building with many Spanish students, who are very friendly and have already taken us out a couple of times. They are in the middle of exams, and we are all anxious for them to be over with them so they can hang out more. I really love my roommate, Maryella. She studied in Argentina last semester, so she has a great handle of the language already. The food at the cafeteria is... adequate but unremarkable. The food is different, but usually good because I am STARVING. They eat five meals here, but I am trying not to spend my money eating every day, so I just eat three. The exchange rate is truly miserable, so I am really sticking to my budget! It’s strange because in the US currency system, coins can add up but we don’t really pay with them that often. Here though, only a few coins can add up to be six or seven euro. The hours here are crazy and I am not quite used to them. I want to eat out and taste the food of this country, but that will come later.

Before we came to Valencia, we were all in Madrid for four days. The hotel we stayed in was apparently Ernest Hemingway's favorite drinking spot, which is ironic for me because I am reading one of his books right now! Madrid is crazy, wonderful, ancient, modern, and beautiful. Giant trees line the streets. Monumental marble statues, fountains, and buildings are everywhere you look. You can tell that the people there have had plenty of time throughout history to perfect it. We visited the Prado, and my breath was taken away by the prolific and diverse nature of Goya, the haunting religious images of el Greco, the precious few pieces by Sorolla (more on him later), and, of course, the famous Las Meninas by Velázquez. Rooms filled with masterpieces. We walked the whole city and I soaked it all up. We took a day trip to Toledo, which is an incredible fortress-looking stone city built onto a mountain side. Ancient churches, an incredibly decadent cathedral, winding tiny stone streets, tons of strangely dressed policemen, and a Harry Potter-esque stone bridge over a winding river. We went out all the nights we were in Madrid together as a group. In one bar they started playing REM, and all the Athens folks went crazy. REM is a band from Athens... Anyway, I love all the students that are in the program, and I know I will be keeping in touch with them in Athens. We all feel we have known each other far longer than a week! The night life in Madrid is just as they promised-- LATE. That, paired with jet lag, made me exhausted. But I made it through, and I feel much better here in Valencia. Madrid was fantastic, but Valencia is far more manageable and a better place to live. 

In Valencia I have seen many incredible things. Today we went on a tour of Los Torres which is a medieval fortress that overlooks the entire city. Stunning views and a surreal feeling of the most ancient building I had ever stood on. We toured La Llotja today as well. This is the ancient Chamber of Commerce building in Valencia. Giant vaulted ceilings, with columns like ribbons apparently supporting the whole thing. This building had both Catholic and Moorish inspirations, making for a unique site. Gargoyles, tile floors, gold ornamented mythical ceilings, etc. The courtyard is filled with orange and lemon trees and a large center fountain, which apparently lifts the scent of the garden into the air to relax visitors. 

One of my absolute favorite activities was to see the Sorolla exhibit on loan in Valencia from New York. I thought what I had seen at the Prado was life-changing, but this exhibit truly changed what I thought about art. The exhibit featured each of the panels he painted from 1912-1920 entitled Visions of Spain. Each panel represented a scene from a different region of Spain. The panels are massive. Each one contains over a dozen figures, and the viewer sees the life story of the characters through the movement in their limbs, the look in their eyes, their postures, and their interactions. Each panel tells a deep story. I looked at each one for well over 10 minutes, getting lost in the scene. When approaching each panel, I felt like I was walking up to that actual scene, back in time, all over Spain. A treat to say the least. 

It has been rainy and cold the last couple of days, apparently unheard of here. Tomorrow is supposed to warm up, and I am very much looking forward to it. I am starting to form a routine here. Wake up at 9. Eat granola with warm milk (eh) and a café con leche. Walk with friends the thirty minutes across town to school. I am done with class at either 12:15 or 2:00 every day. Eat lunch. Take a little siesta. Run errands, read and write. Go on the afternoon activity set up by the program, usually to a museum or monument. Relax a bit. Go to dinner really hungry at about 9 o'clock. Take a shower and hang out with friends. Usually we will all go grab a drink at one of the bafs around where we live with the Spanish students. Then collapse into my bed ready to dream in Spanish! 

I am meeting many interesting people and speaking tons of Spanish. It's starting to get to me, and I actually said "catched" the other day instead of "caught". Tomorrow night, Ashley and I are going out with some people we met this weekend. They are taking us to a flamenco concert near where we live, and a fútbol game on Sunday. Can't wait!

My address is:

Forn de Sant Micolau, 4

46001 Valencia

I will keep this more up to date, so that the entries won't be as long as this one! I am currently trying to borrow a converter so I can charge my camera. I will be posting pictures ASAP. I miss everyone very much, and which you could all see the wonderful place and people I have stumbled upon. I am ridiculously happy.

Un abrazo fuerte

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