Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Than Just a Holiday in Spain

Good news…I am alive and back to the blogging world! And with a week’s worth of news to catch up on. I spent the weekend in the country’s cultural capital (Madrid) and saw some of the world’s finest collections of European art in both the Prado Museums (home of Velazquez’s Las Meninas) and El Reina Sofia (home to Picasso’s Guernica), toured the Palacio Real (official residence of the King of Spain) and for all you non-art lovers, still managed to squeeze in a night at Kapital, Madrid’s famous 7-story discoteca. I dined at a delicious Peruvian restaurant where my table of 7 girls was serenaded by a completely authentic 70-some-year old tooth-missing mariachi man, and people-watched while strolling down the narrow cobblestone roads.

In the past week alone, we have conquered all the major cultural sites of Sevilla as well—the Cathedral (third-largest church in the world, and where Christopher Columbus is buried), Giralda Tower (with the most incredible view of all of Sevilla, as seen above), the fine arts museum, and the royal palace. We managed to squeeze in a night at the theater (and I thought symbolism in ENGLISH tragedies was hard to understand) as well as a traditional flamenco show (complete with stereotypical long greasy haired Spanish man in tap shoes.)

Spain is certainly one of a kind. With each day’s laundry blowing in the wind from atop every apartment balcony, the city is rich with vibrant colors, and there always seems to be the distant sound of an accordion playing everywhere you go. The people here have a surprising appreciation and curiosity for Americans and the U.S. in general, renaming famous Americans such as Mareecaree (Mariah Carey) and Seenconree (Sean Connery), and my personal favorite, Guy-el (my own name seems to be one of the most difficult.) The 4-year-old host sister of one of my friends here has named her darker skinned doll ‘Obama.’

I continue to learn more and more everyday. I now know that sometimes Spaniards find it hard to understand me because I ‘smile too much when I speak’, making it difficult to vocalize (if you know me at all, you know this will certainly be a long process to change.) I also have realized that when Carmen asks if we want ‘pan de molde’ she is not actually asking if we want to eat moldy bread, but rather if we want sandwich bread (think bread molded into a square, instead of bread growing with mold...) And I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that unfortunately Sevilla is not Ann Arbor, and the pedestrians here actually obey the traffic laws (imagine that!)

But now that I have my dog, my running route, and my peanut butter (thank goodness Carmen has had exchange students for the past 5 years who have all happened to gift her with peanut butter that she does not eat), things are starting to fall into place. I've even decided that maybe it is in my better interests not to treat this like a 6-month vacation after all and started wearing my retainers again! So aside from the fact that I have my laundry done every day (quite different than the 'wait till the hamper literally can't hold a single piece more of clothing' policy I usually stick to at school), I am finally finding a place 4,000 miles across the globe I can call home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Home, Sweet Home

No, I have not changed my flight and come back to Michigan early. Instead, I have finally moved into my Spanish homestay! Meet Marie Carmen Rodriguez, my new seƱora, or host-mom for the next five months (photos to come, she insisted she was not beautiful enough today). Carmen is an adorable widow with 5 kids, 3 precious grandbabies, and one yellow lab—my new best friend whose name is Rhumba (and won't sit still for a picture, as seen above.) Only one of the five still lives here—22-year old Marta—but the rest love to visit, so the apartment is always fairly lively. Yesterday, I walked past the TV where 1-year old Marcos was watching ‘Bob Esponja.’ Yes, it is what you think it is, and funnier than you can imagine.

My roommate Melissa (from U.Penn) and I each have our own rooms and share a bathroom. In an attempt to leave this country completely fluent, we truly only speak to one another in Spanish, which has provided for many learning experiences. Carmen (who is a cook extraordinaire) asked us what type of food we usually eat back at home. I told her that among other things, I love pasta with chicken (pasta con pollo—fairly simple, right?) Instead, Carmen heard ‘pasas con pollo’ (raisins with chicken). She seemed so surprised by this, but I continued to insist that I loved it, and that, yes Carmen, raisins with chicken is a really popular dish in the US! I can only imagine the kind of impression of Americans I am giving her. Thus, I have created my favorite new Spanglish word—‘estruglio’—to define our lives here.

However, we continue to try to transition into this new culture. Along with not eating dinner until at least 9 pm, living in apartments with no central heat, and taking showers with only half a door, we have been trying out bits and pieces of the nightlife. Friday night we tried the club scene, and before Melissa and I left the house, Carmen excitedly told us about one of her other students who met a boy at a club in Sevilla, started dating him, and then ended up MARRYING HIM. We told her she should probably not get her hopes up. The only thing I met in the club that night was The Baja Men, as ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ (yes, from 1998) blasted through the speakers. I suppose this was three men, instead of just one, but I don’t think this was the same thing Carmen had in mind.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Spanish Surprises

I have finally found wee-fee! (How the Spaniards pronounce wifi—and accordingly my new favorite term.) Spain has yet to stop surprising me. For some reason, younger boys here (I am talking pre-teen style) think that it is acceptable to try and pick up American girls nearly twice their age. As I watched the Barcelona-Sevilla soccer game in a sports bar the other night, a boy probably half a foot shorter than me (I have no idea why he was in the bar in the first place…let’s just say the Spanish are a little more lax with ID-ing), reaches across a table to me and grabs my cheek (like a grandma would do) and, in the sexiest voice he can muster, asks me my name. I only wish I knew the translation for ‘creeper-in-training.’

Did I mention I ate fish ovaries? (pictured above) Another mix-up, but not quite the same as when I confused time and weather. Turns out the ‘huevas’ on the menu in a tapas restaurant I ate lunch at weren’t just a misspelling of chicken eggs (‘huevos’), nor a type of foreign fish. Instead, a not-so-delicious combination of the two. As the small pieces crumbled in my mouth, I swallowed thinking, ‘what a strange type of fish this is.’ But, as I am trying to live like the Sevillianos do, I finished my portion. Only after we had all tried some did Haley suggest that it was possible that we had just eaten fish eggs. Our waiter cleared up the confusion as he told us, “Oh no, not fish eggs!” We all breathed a sigh of relief. Until he continued. “Fish OVARIES!” Yum.

I am attempting to reduce the number of times I hear ‘Americana’ as I pass by groups of Sevillanos on the streets, so I guess I will continue to try new things. Not quite Spanish, but ‘carpe diem’. I am in Sevilla, after all, and how often in the US do I have the opportunity to have a million little fish babies swimming around in my stomach?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Rain In Spain Stays Mainly In the Plain...

...Or on the heads of young American girls. Yes, the rain has continued. All the Spaniards continue to tell me that this is "muy raro" and it should be stopping soon, and I can only hope they're right. I braved the rain today to get my mandatory extra visa pictures taken, and they were accordingly drenched in beauty. Despite this, however, I can't complain. I would rather be dealing with warm rain in Sevilla than freezing sleet and snow in Ann Arbor. The Sevillanos seem to think that anytime the weather drops below 50, it is necessary to pile on the snow coats, boots, and full winter apparel. Though I would gladly leave my coat at home, I am doing my best to not stick out like a sore thumb. Alas, I leave the coat on and do my best to continue my transition to the Spanish lifestyle.

After signing a pledge to speak only in Spanish for the rest of my time here (we'll see how long this lasts..), I started classes today. I was told by two professors that I would be learning information that might actually come in handy in my life here ("like ordering a beer, or picking up a guy at a bar"--as one of my professors excitedly told us). My Spanish still needs a bit of touching this will certainly be helpful. After I attempted to ask our waiter at lunch today how long our pizza would take, he told me "two days." It was only after another minute or so that I realized he was actually talking about the rain outside. "El tiempo" means time AND weather. I'm not sure what exactly happened to the pizza or the cooking, but, ah, to be lost in translation. Thankfully, this mistake was fairly innocuous, but there's always the future. Let's hope I learn quickly.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just The Beginning

Like any good love story, this one starts out a little rough. But after only one airport meltdown, 16 pounds of luggage too many, a six hour delay in Frankfurt, and about $100 of cab fares, I have successfully made it to Spain. It is raining and far colder than my suitcase packed with little ballet flats was ever prepared for, but I have faith in this relationship with my future home of six months.

This blog is a story of how the Wolverine (me!) falls in love with El Toro (Spain!) For those of you who don't speak quite as fluently as I do, el toro is code for the bull (bulls are pretty popular here in Spain...)

As many of you know, I am spending a semester in Sevilla, Spain with 35 other students from U of M, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania. I will be spending the next six months in this city that smells of oranges, eating tapas galore and dancing my nights away to flamenco. I will also be LEARNING! (believe it or not). I hope to return completely fluent in spanglish.

The rest is to be continued. I have already successfully eaten shrimp with the eyes still in it and mastered the art of arguing with cab drivers, and am sure things can only go up from here.