Sunday, February 27, 2011

Galicia: A Different Kind of Spain

"¿Pues...Dónde estamos?
Where the heck are we?"

These were the first words I heard my friend, Christie, sputter on the early morning she, Kelly and I stepped out of the A Coruña airport to embark on our first solo trip of the semester.

Palm trees.
Ocean cliffs.
Forest-covered hills.
Tall, fair-skinned, soft-eyed and kind-souled people.
Sing-song celtic-Italian sounding Spanish language?

Were we still Spain?

Simply put, I knew nothing about Galicia before I landed in the northern province. Okay, I knew there was a Cathedral, famous with pilgrims as the resting place of Saint James. I also knew that the weather and landscape were more akin to Ireland than my Sunny Sevilla. When researching study abroad programs, I had originally tried to find a program in Santiago de Compostela because of the advice from a relative and my University advisor.
As a result, the location was also in the back of my mind as somewhere I wanted to visit in the future. So, in January, when Kelly asked me if I was interested in making this trip during our first long weekend, I bought a ticket, booked the hostel, and said ha-lueo to Consuelo.
(That's Hasta Luego in an Andaluz accent, by the way).

When we finally got to Galicia, the three of us meandered through the city of A Coruña until we arrived at the end of our Spanish world. This site of the northwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula meets the ocean in rocky cliffs and green sloping grasses, as well as holds the oldest farro (light house) in Europe.
The fog had cleared, but we were still wondering at the strangeness of Galicia. Especially when someone nearby began to play the bag-pipes (gaitas). Laughing out loud by this point, we had no idea where the heck we were. However, I was not complaining at all.

After much photography near the glacial-blue waves, we boarded a train for our final destination. I, of course, pretended I was Hermione Granger the whole time. However, I only saw Galacian (gallego) commuters and university students and no one came by with a trolly full of sweets. The journey was still fun, though.
And beautiful.

Taxi, Plane, Bus, Train...
Finally, we had arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.

I could sense a strange hint of Spain in the air, but the landscape and the people didn't seem like the I Spain I have come to know in Andulucia.

The landscape:

Spain+Seattle weather+Irish hills+forests of green=Galicia

The city of Santiago is green and white and stone and lovely. The large windows, seen on the building on the right, are unique to this area of Spain.

The people:

I love love love love their accents.
They speak Castellano (Spanish) but a little more slowly and almost like they are singing, an influence from this region's historical Gallego dialect. (As opposed to the Sevillano accents I fight to understand daily). I tried to mimic it as much as I could while I was there, talking with the people. But I think I'll just have to move there someday to really get the hang of it.

They look like Christie.
Christie, left, with one of her Gallega sisters, right.
Taller, paler skinn, lighter hair, richer brown eyes, or sometimes even blue. To add to the strangeness of our adventure, we seemed to be in a land full of my friend, Christie's, relatives. (She has somewhat distinctive features that make people at a loss for her ethnicity sometimes. As a Mexican-American, her ancestors came over from a different part of Northern Spain, so it really a little like we had come to her homeland).

Their souls shine in their voices.
What is more, these Spaniards were a lot kinder than their Southern countrymen.
I also found them marvelous to photograph, especially at the market.

I loved this woman. She sold us cake of Santiago and a wonderful pan de pasos (raisin wheat bread) and even some advice about men, which was free.
Pig heads, cheese, conversation were present at many stands at this market.
Grains and beans and flour in this panderia. I think Galicia has the best bread in Spain.

The sights:

We were lucky enough to have found a fantastic hostel near the center of Santiago de Compostela. And even more lucky, we knew a girl, Molly, who lives and teaches English in the city, and basically acted as our personal tour guide for the weekend! (She is from the same college as my relative who suggested Santiago for my studies! Small world, Midwest!) She showed us some beautiful parks and a museum with this amazing staircase and the Cathedral!

Cool picture, right?! I don't know how it happened!

The Cathedral:
This trip originated with my friend Kelly's undying desire to travel, like the pilgrims, to the Cathedral of Santiago. Last semester, after researching and completing her 15 page Medieval Christianity paper over this sight, she was beyond excited. I loved the mossy stone walls of this magnificent building.
People have traveled to this sight for centuries, only to glimpse the tomb of Santiago (St. James) and light a candle, which you can even do via text messaging, if you really can't make the journey, and hug some golden statue. (Not even going to expound on my opinion of that... I'll just say that this is a very Catholic country).

I enjoyed seeing this place, but I hate going to a church feeling like a tourist. But we are his children whether we are sight-seeing, traveling, praying, eating, sleeping, learning, dancing, running, walking, or dreaming. In that fact and in the Resurrection of Christ, I take comfort.

Galacian food:

Food, the best part of traveling? I'd say so. When we were hungry and looking for some authentic Gellagan food, Molly hooked us upppppp.
Cafe solo y pan con pasos, y las noticias. Coffee and Raisin wheat bread.

Gambas con aceite y ajo. Shrimp in olive oil and garlic.
Patatas y pulpo. Potatoes and octopus. Pulpo is SO GOOD. I think I probably ate about 6 of the 8 legs this guy originally had.

Texture of these got me (Erin, take note). Though, I did try one.
Seafood is very typical to Galicia. Most all of the bars give out free tapas with drinks as well, usually cheese and types of pork or tortilla or types of seafood.

(Want to know a secret? Molly even let us use her kitchen to make a little Mexican food from the ingredients we bought at the market. Glorious Guacamole! It did help that Christie did most of the cooking...)

Even with the Mexican food, this trip had a distinct Galician flavor. I loved the people and the green rain and the slow pace of this city. It reminded me of a very small, very Spanish Seattle without Starbukcs. In comparison to Sevilla, Santiago de Compostela is a more relaxed city of the North.

Where ever I travel, it seems that small-town, northern people are a lot more lax about style. Not many people in Santiago seemed to care that I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, where as in Sevilla it isn't appropriate attire for a Saturday night out. In Santiago, we got a kick out of the fact that the bars and cafes played classic rock or 70's disco music, not Lady Gaga or Justice Beaver.
Free tapas tell many tales about the character of a people. (Granada, another wonderful city, had free tapas, too). In Santiago, the air is misty-different and many people sing hola to each other as they pass, even to us Americans who don't have a clue. I feel like this place is a secret that the world hasn't discovered. You should visit there, too.
As we left to return to the airport, by train, I heard a woman's cell phone ringtone alert her that she had a call. It was a gaita ringtone of some traditional Gellaga música. A last little bit of Galician culture before our journey back to the land of Flamenco.

Every time I travel to a new place, I see myself living there. And it looks wonderful.
As for now, I am home in Sevilla and excited to be back in my city of warm orange color and the river. But I think there may be something Gallego in my future. Yes, indeed, I hope so.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Más allá Sobrevivir

Spain is teaching me to live,
not just to survive-
to live in the richness that is the world and to understand the phrase más allá, which I think is more beautiful than simply saying "beyond."

I have discovered all of this since my arrival, which was more than a month ago (hard to believe so much time has passed). In these last couple of years, I have not been able to execute this más allá type of lifestyle that transcending basic survival and trudging through the to-do lists that never end. I'm still learning. But here, I can wake in the morning, in my typical, slightly-chilly Sevillano apartment, and let myself just go live-

In my purple shoes, that take me to places where I learn what más alla sobrevivir means:
-To know that somewhere inexplicably nice, like the mountain town of Granada, exists within reach. To smile because "Granada" means 'pomegranate' in Spanish. And to promise that, one day, I'll return.

-To discover the beautiful corners of my city and have the ability to make my own mark on the world.
-And to see a project completed to your liking.

-To sit by the river. Because God made it beautiful for you to see. And it's the nicest February day you've ever known.

I have found that living is better than just dragging yourself through the drear of the day, the week, the semester, etc. Of course, there's drear. Like language confusion and humiliation. And classes that aren't exactly captivating. And being away from your people.

But I love it anyway
(I'm not sure I really want to come back to the states).

And, what is more, I have found that I am happy.

What a concept-
To live and to be happy.
Más allá sobrevivir.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lecciones Aprendidas:

A Month's Full of Lessons:

1. What the Spanish lack in kindness, they make up for in beauty.
Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas are walking around all over the Sevillano streets. In general, they either ignore me completely or stare blankly at my Americanness. However, I have been able to find some amiable Spaniards. Some examples below.

3 Americans, 3 Spaniards.
Yes, that's right, I have Spanish friends. Manu, Juan, y Pablo. I met them through an "Intercambio" or language interchange activity done through CIEE and the University of Sevilla. They practice English with us, while we practice Spanish. We mostly just have fun enjoying Fanta and delightful language confusion.

2. I am loved. And I love letters.
30+ from afar.
I knew all of that before, of course. But thank you again to all of those of you who have sent me your smiles across the sea. It's nice because I think about you all a lot. I have cherished each and every letter and birthday card immensely, especially the fun package sent from Seward! One day, I received over 15 letters. A new record.

3. Outdoor cafes really are as wonderful as they seem.
There's going to be a lot more of these tiny cups of espresso and sunshine later on this semester.

4. Europe loves to hate America.
Those are strong words. But I've found that Europeans love to critique the US, while at the same time revere certain cultural elements.
I watch the Spanish news every morning and evening with my Señora. They monitor, mention, and discuss the United States or Obama daily.
My Señora likes the USA, but she also thinks Americans are too unhealthy. Of course, Spaniards drink more alcohol than they do water, smoke like chimneys, eat tons of white bread with each meal, and don't ever exercise.
I asked my Intercambios for names of good Spanish bands and musicians. But they listen to mostly American music and like watching American films.
Most of my professors have studied in the US and talk about their experience often. But they talk also discuss the open-mindedness of Spain, which has gay marriage, more environmental regulations, etc.
My poetry professor stopped a lecture to tell us how extremely important it was that we have an African-American president because of our past discrimination with slavery and Native Americans. Of course, they discuss their past with the Muslim and Jewish Spaniards as part of their "rich" cultural history.
And, as every Spaniard knows, Europe is superior, more sophisticated, and advanced than the United States. Oh, and the current economic problems are our fault. We should fix them already. Gez!

5. Los Españoles le encanta fútbol.
And, after watching a game, I understand why! I went to a Sevilla FC vs. FC Porto (Portugal) game. Final score 2-1, Porto. Although we lost, the game was amazing! And I learned a lot of colorful insults/palabrotas.

6. Americans have loud speaking voices.
In general, we talk louder than the Spanish. At least that's what I've found to be the case. It really irks me when a group of American students are practically yelling their conversations, in English, somewhere out in public. I've learned way too much about the current state of Brittany Spears' life and dumb TV shows about singing highschoolers. Talk about ruining a wonderfully exotic atmosphere. We're in Spain. We're here to study and learn. I'm going to speak Spanish. Do the same, at a normal volume, please and thanks.

7. Learning Spanish has caused my English spelling to suffer tremendously.
Some examples of this: heyllo, farmacy and yourr. Slipping back and forth in between the seas of language has it's difficulty as well. It took me about a minute to think of the word 'protest' today. I could only think of it's Spanish counterpart, manifestación. As they say here, vale la pena. Worth the trouble.

8. I want to move to Granada and live as a Spanish ski bum.

I'll live near a mountain, in a white house covered in plants and plates.

9. There is a rich Arab, Islamic history in Andalucia.

I love the art.
The Alhambra, the last stronghold of the Islamic Empire, until 1492.
Tea and pastries at an Arab Teteria in Granada

10. I love Sevilla more than I ever thought I would.
I like to pretend I won't have to leave. I'll sit by the river and speak Spanish forever. Sometimes I worry that this place and this language and this experience will slip back into the corners of my mind after I leave it. But then I know it really won't. I just remember this amazing city's motto:

Sevilla, No me ha dejado
(Sevilla, you have not left me)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Homework Breaks and Language Laughter

Sometimes, I get distracted from my homework here.

Usually it's because of the sunshiny weather and the slowsplashing river. Sometimes it's because a friend wants to go hit up the Rebajas or toma un cafe a la cafetería or plan a trip to Santiago de Compostela (We're heading up there February 25!).

Today, it was cloudy, a little chilly, and I thought I'd be able to actually finish an assignment uninterrupted.

Then I discovered this.
It just reminded me how much I really love language. So much.

Oh, in case you were wondering, my class schedule is:
-Spanish-American Poetry
-Advanced Grammar II
-European Art History of the 20th Century
-Culture and Cuisine of Spain

Yeah, it's going to be a good semester.

I hope this little post brightened your day.
I hope your Valentines Day is spent full of the knowledge that Jesus loves you more than you could even imagine! So much that he died to spend eternity with you.
And, I hope, overall, your Día de San Valentín is better than this guy's.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Córdoba: Where I Met Three Cultures

I realized today that I an album full of wonderful pieces of my day-trip to Córdoba, that I had yet to share with you.

I was extra excited to visit this Andalusian city because I had studied it quite a bit Sophomore year in my Spanish Civilization class. There is a grand Mezquita, or Islamic mosque, left over from the reign of the Arab-African Moors' until the Reconquista of the Catholic Spaniards in 1236. The Spanish altered the building and added an amazing Cathedral as well. It really is an impressive architectural endeavor.

A Muslim Mosque. A Catholic Cathedral. A Jewish Neighborhood.

This is Córdoba:

The Mezquita.
Christianity and Muslim Architecture
The Mihrab of the Mezquita.
The Ceilings are amazing
Cathedral (This is in the same building of the Mezquita).

The Cathedral's altar
Tiny streets, like every Spanish city I've visited.
The Jewish Barrio (Neighborhood).
Jewish Courtyard and Garden.

That was kind of touristy. But oh well, right?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dream Clouds and Bridge Thoughts

Inside my mind, I like to conglomerate my blog-readersphere into one person.
This Reader Of Mine reads my blog while sitting in his living room. He lives in a generic American state that is mostly flat and completely snow-covered. He sips his mint tea at night, takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes after trudging to and fro all day long. The monotony is getting to him. The snow is getting to him. He tries to think about something wonderful to brighten his evening. His mind drifts to dreams. He dreams of other places, because there are so many in this world (and even outside it). He wonders, though, if adventures are real, not just things of childhood.

I think that I am really writing to myself, two years ago, when I add new blog-posts about my life here in Spain. On days when I would march to the library, among snow drifts, as the wind whips hair out of my braid, I would dream of somewhere else. Not that winter is bad. I love it, truly I do. But wind blows in my memories of dreary days. That I just can't help. Monotony and wind and dreams of somewhere else.

When I got to Spain, Consuelo gave me two keys, one to the Apartment building and one our own 9th floor flat. They felt kind of awkward in my hands, as I've never really used house keys or dorm keys (In Alaska, I lived in the boonies. Concordia is relatively safe, plus Erin and I were really much too lazy). I didn't pay much attention to the somewhat filthy key chain that linked these new tokens of urban-living until a week after I moved in.

(However, I've guarded those keys with my life. Consuelo often compares me to "Mickey", the previous American girl who lived with her. According many of my friend, this is typical of Señoras. Anyway, Mickey was pretty much the bees-knees. HOWEVER- Mickey lost her keys. I WILL NOT LOSE MY KEYS. I WILL beat Mickey and Consuelo will talk about me for years to come. Ha.)

Back to The Key Chain.

The key chain is small and white and shaped like a cloud that has drifted over Nebraska on an early May afternoon. I was walking across my beloved bridge, el Puente de Isabela Segunda, as the sun descending for a late-afternoon dip. I casually looked to make sure I still had my Tickets to Victory (my keys). I realized that the cloud had elegant cursive writing on it, which I had never actually read before.

The cloud says, as follows:
"Blue * Bay
For Dreamers Only!"

I have no idea what that means.
But I'm used to being confused here, inside this adventure
of language
and of culture
and of orange trees.

"I am a Lady in Spain" and, this is a place,
if there ever was one,
for dreamers.
("I can be anything that I see").

So please dream on, Reader of Mine, inside your snowy house. It is not in vain, it is not a worthless pursuit. Plan something wonderful and do it tomorrow, even if it is just to paint a picture or buy hot cocoa or go to the Coffee House in Lincoln. Pray a lot. And Find your Blue * Bay.

Today I walked across the bridge again (But this time, in my new boots, thank you very much. Adventurers need good, leather boots, right?). The sun glittered down into the river below. I've seen icy-snow sparkle and grass shine, wet with dew. But this was different. This was golden water and blue light.

The stuff dreams are made of. At least, my dreams.

I blinked my eyes and it was still there and I was still there and a Spanish family walked past me in a hurry.

I realized, today, that I have found my Blue * Bay; I am living inside an golden-blue adventure that smells of orange tree blossoms and sounds like the word elegante.

And so, Reader Of Mine...

God made a Blue * Bay for you too.
What will yours be like?

I realize that I could google the heck out of the phrases on The Key Chain and find out its origin.
I do not want to do this.
I do not want to know any of that.
I like to dream and imagine and live outside reality, sometimes.
So I ask that you not comment on this post regarding the real Blue Bay. It's supposed to be a metaphor, people. Honor the figurative language of Prose.
Thank you, dream on and pray hard.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fotos de un día libre:

I just finished my two week intensive class yesterday. Woop woop. I celebrated by spending some wonderful time outdoors in the 65 degree weather. Feel free to tener celos.

Most people were still wearing boots, pants, coats, but I went out in shorts, a South Alabama tee, and a pair of Aviators. I had a mission to accomplish and it wasn't to look like a Sevillana (though someday, maybe, I will achieve their haughty style).

My mission was simple:
Tomar sol (Sit in the sun)
Escribir muchas cartas (Write a lot of letters)

Here is a sort of menagerie of photos from my free day in Sevilla:

I sat near the river

I watched men fish and row on the river. (This photo is dedicated to my father, fisherman extraordinaire)

I watched Spanish teenagers par-kour on the various obstacles surrounding the river.

I wrote letters to these people. All of whom I miss tremendously.

Although I miss so many things about America and many people there as well, today was grand. It's not over, though. Right now, Consuelo is taking a siesta. We just finished having lunch. I've got to be off to a cafetería to meet some friends. We're planning a trip to Germany. Can anyone say Lutherstadt Wittenberg? I can't wait. It's pretty Catholic in Spain.