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. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Las faltas...

This is my residence hall! Pretty nice, eh? 

Maryella and I!

Funny story. While out on the town last night, I sent a text to Spanish friends to tell them where we were standing. I wanted to say that we were in front. I forgot that "frente" means forehead, not front. So I told them "We are on the forehead." They don't speak English that well, so they did not pick up on how I could have made that mistake. Curse those false cognates! 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Los Planetas y Nacho Vegas

So many great days and nights in Spain!

We have had three days straight with great weather. A light breeze in the streets, so a bit chilly, but nice and hot in the sunshine. It gets pretty cold at night, but still really nice. 

Thursday night was the first night that all the Spanish students we live with were done with their exams. They took us to a botéllon, which is pretty much a party in the park. Everyone is very nice and patient with our Spanish. All the students here love the idea of Miami and New York. We keep telling them that Valencia is where they need to be! Then, when bars normally close in Athens and people start calling it a night, we all took a taxi to La Indiana. The nightis just getting started at 3 o'clock. An unfortunate cultural difference for those with class at 9 am the next day. I suppose the word "Indiana" has an exotic connotation, just like Cafeteria Nebraska. Weird! La Indiana is a huge night club. Different DJs on every floor, video projections on the wall, dancing and dancing. This was my first experience with this type of night life. I enjoyed myself, but definitely prefer the less extreme options Valencia offers. 

My presentation in class went very well on Friday, and we all napped most of Friday afternoon. Friends invited Ashley and I out for a concert and we met up around 7:15 that night. We, as usual, had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be a HUGE outdoor concert of two of the most popular indie-rock bands in Spain. The concert was free and the crowd was singing along to every word of every song. The two band were Nacho Vegas and Los Planetas, both of which I enjoyed immensely. Nacho Vegas featured an accordion. The large outdoor venue was right on the Mediterranean and we could see the masts of sail boats lining the dock outside of the venue. The sea breeze came into the large tent, a real treat for tall people! Ashley and I were about 50 feet back from the stage, but it felt like we were in the front row because everyone is much shorter here. We got some dinner and hung out afterwards. Two of the guys we were with play guitar, and it was passed between them repeatedly. The songs they pulled out to play were of such a strange and interesting selection. They are French, but live in Spain, but listen to tons of American music. They would play a Radiohead song, then strange 90s songs I hadn't heard in years, then Nirvana, then Led Zeppelin, then Tracy Chapman. Then French songs, then flamenco, then Spanish pop songs, then Oasis. It was so ridiculous! They would speak in French to each other, Ashley and I would speak English to each other, and we would all speak Spanish together! It was a challenge and a pleasure trying to keep up with it all! The best part-- I got some jokes in Spanish. I even made a joke! Leaps and bounds! It's such an advantage to have new local friends. Especially ones who speak Spanish fluently, but as a second language because they speak more slowly. 

Today was incredible. Valencia is one of the oldest cities in Europe and we live in the ancient part of town. Part of the city has a massive complex of architecturally mind-blowing modern buildings, all designed by Calatrava. We went from medieval fortresses to the Jetson's in a forty minute walk. About six or seven huge sculptural buildings are surrounded by tile walkways and shallow blue pools. The lines of the building mimic nature, slow moving white beams at crazy angles, like coral. The aquarium was great: penguinos, morsas, y leónes marinos. Belugas and birds! A dolphin show! Then to the science museum! We laid out by the pool, watching the people. 

Four of us started walking home and stopped into a crowded bar where about 30 people were watching the Valencia soccer game on TV. Screams and moans from the bar-folk at every kick of the ball! Songs and swaying. Curses and praises. We stayed a long time, and cheered along. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I am going to Dusseldorf, Germany!
There is a airline called Ryanair that often has extremely reasonably priced airfare if booked in advance. Valencia has a few direct flights out of the airport here, one of them being to Dusseldorf. Six of my friends and I decided to make a long weekend out of it when we found really cheap tickets round trip! I don't know anything about the city or any German at all! A new friend, Alex, does speak some German so he will be good to have on board. Ashley and Laura, my good friends from Athens, and my roommate, Maryella, are all coming! This adventure is taking place March 4-7. 

Today and yesterday where tranquil. It rained all day today, which made for the perfect napping afternoon. I went out and got an espresso at a cafe very close to here that I plan on spending a lot of time in. It's cozy and perfectly lit. They play an awesome selection on international music, and I caught some Bruce Springsteen today. 

I am giving a presentation tomorrow in my Film Class about the movie, "Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall!" It's a 1953 comedy about stereotypes of Spanish people to Americans, and vice versa. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Los churros and las motivaciones

These are my good friend, Ashley's pictures. Thought I would share! There is a picture of a plaza that is a two minute walk from my residence, and one of me walking on the way to school. The medieval fortress and the ancient Chamber of Commerce building are here too! 

Best recent discovery: churros con chocolate.  Buttery, fried, and twisted, these wafer-like pastries are a perfect vehicle for the cup of melted dark chocolate they come with. It’s not exactly hot chocolate. More like a melted candy bar. Just ridiculous…

“Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam, oh, maybe I’ll go to Rome.” We found out today we are getting three extra Fridays off to open up the opportunity for personal travel. Everyone is planning their weekends in advance to get the cheapest tickets. I can hardly wait to go somewhere, everywhere. There are enough students here that if you have an idea for a destination, someone is bound to want to join you. I have got some bees in my bonnet, and hopefully plans will fall into place.

This weekend I am not traveling because the group is going to the famous aquarium/science museum/planetarium/fine arts building all day on Saturday. Also, I have been invited for a fútbol game in Valencia on Sunday. Valencia CF is the main professional team in Valencia, and their mascot is a bat. EVERYONE talks fútbol around here, so I am excited to have an actual game under my belt as a conversation starter. Go Bats?!?

I am practicing my Spanish as much as possible. Some days I am really good at it, others I feel like I can’t speak at all. My professor today asked if I had lived in a Spanish-speaking country before, because he thought I spoke so well! But at the store on the way home I could not understand something really simple the register lady said to me. I have so many things to say to new Spanish friends, but I don’t exactly have the words. I feel like I am a completely different person when I can’t get my words across. “I swear I am interesting!” I want to tell them. It’s not apparent when all I can say in Spanish are things like, “I ate churros today for the first time and they were delicious.” “I like your sweater that has stripes.” “I am a student of anthropology. Yes, very interesting.” “I enjoy whistling, as well.” I reckon I seem pretty silly. Laughter following something I say is most always at some weird translation mistake, instead of some clever quip or funny story. I am propelled to know the language more and more, simply to save face.

Monday, February 1, 2010

La sobremesa

Sunday was one of the best days of my life. 

Around one o'clock I went to find the sunshine and to see things. For most of the day, the sun shies behind the buildings, which are situated very closely together. At any given hour, the sun is lined up perfectly to shine down only a couple of alleys, providing light and heat deprived of the others. You would think they would have calculated a schedule showing which cafés got sun at each hour, for people to reference. I am imagining something like a tide chart.

I walked toward the central market, which reeks of fish. Despite the smell, it is wonderful. Piles of categorized and color-sorted spices, herbs, and sauces. Dried fruit, meat, anything, and who knows. Bartering and bargaining. I spotted a row of tables and chairs filled with people, because it was Sunday afternoon precisely at siesta time. Each person was bathed in warm Valencian sun, exactly what I was looking for. There was one open table! I looked into the café and saw a busy counter and lined with glass cases of stacked fried seafood of all kinds. I went up to order a cafe con leche. I stood awkwardly in the way, but it seemed to be the place to order. "Dime," the guy behind the register told me. His hands were flying in a dozen directions, putting scallops on a plate, punching buttons on the register, handing bills to impatient servers, writing down an order from another server, putting sauce on the scallops, and putting the scallops on a tray already loaded with fried calamari, bread, and several golden glasses of beer. All of this before I got out my order. I sat at a little table beside the bar while it was prepared, watching all the action. People were lined up to order. Waiters were crowded by the small door to the kitchen, where endless amounts of food seemed to come from behind the wall. Still more food was stored in front behind the counter. Mussels, clams, scallops, chunks of meat. Bread in big baskets, and endless beer and wine on display. Jars of olives. The super-human who ran the counter would say out, "Cántame." Sing to me. Someone would list out about five different things, he punched buttons and he would get busy assorting the items on the list. A coffee appeared on the counter and he pointed at me. I grabbed it efficiently and walked outside to find my sunny table. All occupied. I stood around, looking for an opening. No luck. I walked back in to sit at the table by the bar, and, of course, occupied. I uncomfortably sat down at the bar by pulling up a stool in the one opening I could see, squeezed in between an old couple slowly eating some thing featuring salty ham, and two young women rapidly speaking in Spanish. I felt completely like a, what the call, guires. So, so touristy. There’s always next time.

By the time I got back, the group was ready. We were going to the beach! We generally understood which direction the train station was in and, more generally, which train to take once we got there.

An hour later we were there. The Mediterranean Sea.

 That’s right! The MEDITERRANEAN! First sighting made! The water was blue, blue. The sand was very fine, and the beach was expansive. There was a small mountain range to the left, with a small village built onto it. To the right was an industrial looking port. I dipped a toe into the freezing water. The day before I left for Valencia, I was on the beach on Sullivan's Island, thinking about me standing on the Mediterranean shore. And there I was! Very neat.

It is January, thus the beach was pretty windy and cold. No rain, but there were fast moving clouds over most of the sky. Five of us decided to find a little restaurant away from the main beach area and have a quick refreshment and snack before heading back to town.  

Five hours later, when leaving the restaurant, I knew I had experienced something truly Spanish, la sobremesa. 

We had walked right into the middle of the afternoon meal of the family who owned the restaurant. About twelve people were sitting around several tables pushed together. The obvious matriarch was getting up and down and going to the back of the restaurant and bringing out more food. Paella, fruit, salad, drinks and drinks and drinks. She noticed us and waved us to two small tables, which she hurriedly pushed together. She brought out green olives, chips, bread, and drinks. There were five of us and we were the only other ones in the restaurant. They kept eating and bringing food. There were about six dogs running around and laying under the table. An old man handed me something: a tiny puppy! What?! Where were we?! I played with the puppy for the next two hours, as we talked and relaxed, occasionally speaking to the family, and she kept bringing drinks. They asked us if we were going to eat. We said sure. They brought sangria and more bread. Later, salad. Piled high with fresh shredded tuna, olives, tomatoes, and chickpeas, oil and vinegar. 

Then paella and wine. PAELLA! Oh, paella. It came in a huge black iron, shallow pan. Yellow saffron rice topped with pleasantly arranged green beans, red peppers, chicken, and other delicious items. It was unbelievably good. It was heaped on our plates, our glasses filled.  After scraped clean plates, they brought a tray full of ripe fruit. Sliced melon, apples, bananas, and oranges. Oranges so sweet and juicy it felt like a sin to eat. We were blissfully stuffed. 

After dinner, the old man brought over a bottle of light brown liquid, and poured us all a shot, including himself, of a sweet honey liquor. The five of us were in disbelief at our luck! We had stumbled into the real thing. Next, the old man brought over hand-rolled cigars, of tobacco, valenciano puro. He talked and talked, and handed me the puppy again. He gave us more cigars, wrapped in paper, to take home. He kissed our cheeks and the woman made fun of the boys. There were children running around and playing with the dogs.

We were all having the time of our lives, but also getting anxious to see the bill for all the food and drink that had mysteriously and continually arrived at our table. You wouldn't believe that it all cost us somewhere around 15 dollars! Whew!! We were so relieved and so grateful. We were invited back next Sunday, and every Sunday after that. They wanted me to take the puppy home with me and feed us more.

Today is another beautiful day. I am sitting on the roof of our building, looking out over roofs of brown and red shingles. Most churches have blue-domes, which I can see scattered around the city. White walls and green foliage form the grids. There are others sitting on their respective roofs across el barrio. I see the park in the distance. I see the street we walk down every day to get to school. Later I will go take a walk and go get a book I need for school. I am seeing, hearing, and learning so much.

Un abrazo fuerte.