Thursday, February 18, 2010

We lost Betty Crocker at the Alamo?

Decision: put the American girl with no rhythm, who's a terrible swimmer, doesn't know the word for rowboat, paddle, or SOS for that matter, as captain for a tiny tipsy vessel in the Mediterranean - in hindsight, not a good idea. Water Sports Class was going swimmingly (forgive the pun) until a recent fateful afternoon.
The miniature cousin of oxford crew boats, our crafts are manned by four rowers and a captain who steers and acts as human-metronome for the oars to follow. Split into a group with two Romanian girls and a Spanish boy and girl, I received the honor of acting as captain and translator for the group. The Romanians spoke English and little Spanish and the Spaniards spoke only their native tongue. With little direction other than how to attach the oars, our instructors shoved us off from the deck and into the harbor.
It only took 60 seconds for us to crash into another dock. Once we reached more open water, we nearly capsized on multiple occasions because 1- The Romanians didn't understand that rowing is a circular motion and instead chose to wiggle their oars up and down, 2- The wind pushed us dangerously close to other (much larger) boats anchored in the marina, 3- I can't give directions and keep a beat out-loud at the same time to save my life. An hour and a half of frantic Spanglish and frenzied rowing later, we returned to the dock with a sense of pride that we hadn't fallen into the ocean or destroyed the equipment. Our instructors inconceivably believe that we're ready to move onto personal one-man watercraft next. God help us all.
When not cheating death on the open seas, Medieval and Mexican Literature exhaust the rest of my brainpower. In Medieval, we're reading the equivalent of Old English - spelling is more art than science, giving authors plenty of room to wax creative in their choice of letters. Needless to say, it's a bit of a challenge. Mexican Lit is much easier but equally engaging. Taught by one of our program directors, the class meets in the headquarters of a club for Northern Spaniards in Alicante. With couches, tables and chairs, the "classroom" provides an intimate and open setting for our discussions of Mexican American culture and the texts associated with it.
Learning the history of the western United States from a third-party Spanish view is fascinating. We're constantly feeling sheepish for the lack of memory we have of 5th and 8th grade American History. Mr. Shores would be ashamed that I couldn't remember the name of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. I feel less moronic than some of my companions however, e.g. the quote that I chose for the title of this post. Yes, an American actually asked, "Wait, we lost Betty Crocker at the Alamo?" Indeed, and that explains the sad reality that she hasn't written any more cookbooks.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Barce! Barce! Baaaaaarce! The voices of 110,000 Spaniards chant this in unison at every FC Barcelona home game. The air in Camp Nou vibrates with an energy akin to that in an NFL stadium on Superbowl Sunday. Every call the referee makes is a matter of life and death, and at times you feel like a spectator in the Colosseum, deciding the fate of the warriors below with the opinion of the crowd and the strength of your lungs. When Barcelona wins, which of course they do, the fans beam like proud parents. You half expect them to point out a player and say, "see number 10? Messi? That's my boy." We wear the Barce scarves we purchased only hours before as if we've always had them, as if we belong to this clan of victorious soccer hooligans. Riding the subway back to the hostel, still basking in the glow of European futbol glory, we're quiet and content like children in the back seat on the way home from the circus. We anticipate describing the event to our friends and family, but realize that nothing we can say can capture the magic of that stadium on that particular February evening.

While less momentous than the soccer game, the rest of our Barcelona weekend was one of my best yet in Spain. Our hostel was a bohemian hideaway a ways from the city center, complete with Tibetan prayer flags, hammocks, and a guitar for guests to strum. The ten of us slept on bunk beds in a 12-person room with a communal bathroom down the hall. We began our Barce exploration by hitting some of the major tourist stops, eg their Arc de Triunfo and the castle Montjuic, and rounded out our day by stopping for chocolate con churros- molasses-thick hot chocolate with fried funnel cake-esque dough for dipping. When the churros are gone, the Spaniards actually drink the cocao concoction. We opted for spoons and scooping instead.

Our first night in Barcelona was both serendipitous and hilarious, involving everything from accidental entrances to gay clubs to 5 a.m. to exuberant street performers. At one fateful moment, a friend from back in the states even happened to emerge from the taxi we were trying to hire. The next morning, the troops rallied splendidly and we set out for more wanderings. Starting with the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's yet unfinished cathedral, we made a day of all things Gaudi. From the Sagrada we walked to Park Guell, the hillside menagerie for many of Gaudi's fanciful creations. A "gingerbread house" sits across from a giant rainbow mosaic lizard, spewing water from the intricate fountain upon which it perches. Spires of strange shapes and colors punctuate the horizon and you feel as if you've wandered out of the city and into a fairytale. Our time in Park Guell was limited by the soccer game that evening, but we had time to get lost (both literally and figuratively) in the tangle of nature and Gaudi.

We spent our last day in Barcelona visiting museums. The Picasso held works from his childhood and early schooling. My favorite was his first entry to a major show, a photo-quality and nearly life-size image of a child's First Communion. While overall slightly underwhelming, I'm still glad we went to the museum. The collection served as a reminder that Picasso meant to make every brush stroke on his strange works from later periods. If he wanted them to look realistic, he would have done so. Sometimes I think, "well I could have painted that silly thing," but now I realize that old Pablo really did paint with purpose. Another academic highlight from our last day was the History Museum, a tiny building hidden on a narrow side street. The modern architecture actually sits upon ancient Roman ruins that you can descend a staircase to explore. Lit like the Bat Cave, cold and eerie, you could walk through them on a winding platform. If you looked closely, you could catch writings etched in the walls, sometimes in latin, sometimes in Hebrew. I had a little tinge of cultural pride when I recognized this and was able to point it out to a fellow traveler. Our time again hampered, we were soon forced to leave the city center for the train station to head back to Alicante.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The One Month Mark

This Friday marks the one month point of my Spanish excursion. I was planning on blogging a reflection of my stay so far on the day itself, but my itch to travel has caused me to be in Barcelona at that time, sans laptop.
The 30 days I've spent here have flow by so quickly that I feel like I've just arrived. At the same time, I notice myself speaking a form of Spanglish to my English compatriots and forgetting how to conjugate words in English. I must be talking and acting more like a Spaniard because this week, to my utter surprise, a Spanish student asked me where the post office was. Not only did I get the perk to my pride that she asked me, but I could actually answer too. I didn't fare nearly as well when a woman asked me for the Economics Building, but I'm still chalking that one up as another point for not looking like an American.
The above is a picture of the Castle Santa Barbara, to which I run on a daily basis. That is, when gale force winds don't force me to opt for the beach instead. The photo that follow is a friend from Alabama on top of said castle. Don't worry Grandma, I would never dream of doing this myself. I was happy to serve as action photographer though.
Mid-post, I just decide that my blogs tend to grow a bit lengthy since I wait until I have plenty of material before posting. No guarantee, but I'm going to make an effort to post more often and more concisely. I'll absolutely have another lengthy novel to write after Barcelona this weekend, however. An FC Barcelona fútbol game, the Picasson Museum, The Sacred Family Cathedral etc. will be sure to prompt a sizable entry.