Archive for February, 2011

Class, Toledo, and the Bernab√©u

February 21, 2011 2 comments

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Back to the blog. Yes, I know, I’ve been really lazy with my updates. I’m sorry! To be honest, keeping a blog is a bit difficult. You have lots of things to keep in mind such as remembering what you did, making sure to keep your camera with you (I’m bad at this one), taking note of where you went, and then (of course) actually taking a few hours to update. Today I shall fill in the past two weeks or so. In the future, I’m going to try to fill the time between my notable adventures with little blurbs of things I’ve learned or found interesting about the country here, since school has now begun and there are fewer excursions. I intend to be more diligent.

I think I’ll start by talking about my class schedule. This will make it very easy for those of you who are less-interested to skip over it, as it is all bulleted and easily ignored ūüôā

  • Core Course: Spain in the 21st Century – This is the class that all DiM students have to take, and the only required one. It’s taught by the man in charge of the DiM program, Marcos Canteli, and its focus is to try to catch us Americans up to speed on Spain as it is today. We are learning about their government and recent history: the civil war through the regime of Franco and the re-establishment of democracy. Additionally, we are being learning about culture as well: books, novels, movies. So far it’s been a quality and enjoyable class. One observation that coincides with what I’ve learned:¬†the political parties here are a mess. They have several that are recognized and prominent, such as PSEO (the socialists) and the PP (conservatives), and many other smaller ones. Of course, over time, many of them have changed their names, making following them ever more confusing. Furthermore, there are other parties in the Pa√≠s Vasco and in Catalu√Īa whose sole goal fight for independence for their respective communities. Honestly, their political system is a huge mess–not unlike home.
  • The History of Spanish Art – This class is taught by Blanca Muro. It’s a riveting class where we’re learning about the various aspects of Spanish Art (not much of a mystery). Every other class period, we visit a museum or landmark in Madrid–pretty cool. So far, we’ve talked about El Greco, Diego Vel√°zquez, and the Palacio Real. The cool part about being here is that we talk about their works, their life stories–then we go visit them. It’s probably my favorite class, reminding me of my art history class with Mr. and Mrs. Simpson in high school. I won’t talk too much about it, as I summarize some of the things we talk about below with example.
  • Mythography of Madrid – Taught by Patricia Esteban, the purpose of this course is to focus specifically on the culture of Madrid. This class began with a history of the city itself. Madrid, like much of Spain, was originally Arab territory, originally named Mayrit (meaning place of waters, roughly). It became the capital of Spain in 1561, chosen due to its central location in the country. Watching the city grow (via old maps) into what it is today is really interesting, for example. We also are spending time looking at films and works of literature that depict Madrid, trying to capture the city’s essence.
  • The Psychology of Advertising – This is the only class I’m taking that isn’t run by the DiM office, and it’s turned out to be very interesting. Taught entirely in Spanish (just like the other classes), we are learning the strategies that advertisers employ to compel their audience to buy their product. The class is composed of me, M√≥nica, Thea, and Gloria, as well as a French girl, a Mexican girl, two Italians, and one Spanish student. Last class, we made short presentations on advertisements that we found interesting, and we talked about the reasons the ads were successful. As one of my examples, I used the Heineken beer closet commercial. It’s a very diverse classroom and a very fun class.

Suffice it to say that classes are generally going reasonably well. For the most part, there’s not too much work so long as you stay on top of it, and I enjoy being in class. The cool part of Spain, however, is not homework, and I was able to manage doing a few cool things during these past two weeks. For me, upon arrival, I knew I had to watch at least one match in Real Madrid’s stadium, the Santiago Bernab√©u. While I didn’t watch Real Madrid play, I think I may have done even better: I watched the World Cup champions play against Colombia. For a mere 18 dollars (thirteen euro). The bargain of my life.

Spain: World Cup Champions -

It was rather hectic getting in. Thea went with me, and finding the box office was surprisingly difficult. Here, you can actually buy soccer tickets through the ATM, but the machine trolled me and kept canceling my purchase. Upon arrival, we walked around the stadium¬†in its entirety, weaving through the extremely thick and rowdy crowd, before finally finding the proper booth. Our tickets took us to seats on the third tier, and we actually used an escalator to get up there (pretty cool). The first glimpse of the stadium was unforgettable, and I’m kicking myself still for having forgotten my camera. It was like walking in through the side of a giant’s bowl. It is a very vertical stadium, with the backs of the heads of the row in front of you around shin-level (no complaints there). The stands were full of fans, both¬†Colombian and Spanish, and the bottom (for we were rather high up) was a perfect little rectangle of the prettiest shade of healthy grass. As a soccer fan, I was in heaven. Watching the top names in the game play before my eyes is something I’ll never forget. The game itself turned out to be a bit dull unfortunately, as the Spaniards were reluctant to attack too ferociously, but I was still happy to be witnessing incredible players play an incredible game. To top it off, the Spaniards around us were very jolly. They danced and sang during the songs at the halftime show, waltzing to¬†La Camisa Negra or Que¬†Viva Espa√Īa and just generally being nutty and fun. The only goal of the game came at the end. I have to admit: Colombia should have won. You can see Spain’s goal, from roughly the same point of view I had (but much closer to the ground) here. It occurs to me that I’ve actually seen as many Spanish national games as American ones–this needs to be fixed when I get back home.

A stunning city indeed, Toledo - Click to Enlarge

Later on that week, I had the opportunity to take a day trip to Toledo, Spain’s capital in the thirteenth century (it is around forty minutes south of Madrid in the community of Castilla-La Mancha) and one of the prettiest cities I’ve visited thus far in Spain. Toledo is well-known worldwide for its knives and crafts, and in this area it did not disappoint. The knives and swords made in Toledo can be seen in movies such as the Lord of the Rings, but they also specialize in other beautiful handiwork. They make damascene crafts, a style wherein gold is inlaid into the material to create stunning souvenirs in the form of bracelets, earrings, and other forms of decoration. We actually got to walk into a workshop to see how it’s done–it’s a beautiful process of patience and precision. Of course, the highest quality souvenirs are made by hand. One can actually see the difference between the hand-made and machine-made products–the hand-made is far superior in quality and in grandeur. Hopefully I can return to pick up gifts for family and friends–it’s a mere 10 euros round trip to return by bus.

Façade of the Mosque - Click to Enlarge

Toledo, like much of Spain, is rich in both Arab and Christian history. This can be seen with its Alc√°zar (which still stands, but which we did not visit), its cathedral, and its mosques. The mosques are perhaps the most historically interesting, as they tend to give a brief history of the Christian take-over. We visited one mosque that fit the bill perfectly. The fa√ßade shows Arabic text at the top, which I am told outlines the building’s benefactors. You can see the characteristic Arabic geometric patterns both inside and out, along with the lobed arches typical of Arabic architecture. When you enter, you see this style continue until you get to the back, where the Christian influence can be seen. On the ceiling, a painting of Jesus blesses those who enter, with his hand waving good fortune upon us. The presence of Jesus seems out of place–a painting in this building just looks, well, wrong. However, the mosque serves as a perfect example of one of the MANY mosques converted to Christian use during that era. Pictures are available in the gallery, courtesy of Megan’s facebook (as always).

Aside from Toledo, I also returned a few times to the art museums, largely due to the field trips for the art history class. For instance, we studied a lot of Vel√°zquez‘s paintings in the Prado. Vel√°zquez was an interesting fellow. He was a king’s painter who eventually became a nobleman, and his style actually changes dramatically over time with notable influence of the¬†Italians (Vel√°zquez visited Rome at two different points in his life. Both times marked a change in his style). For example, compare the relatively flat (a relative lack of perspective) and structured Los Borrachos to the perspective-enhanced and free Las Meninas to see what I mean. While both are masterpieces, his shift in style is nevertheless evident. I talked about Las Meninas before in one of my blog posts. That work is truly something special, and absolutely worth your time to read up on in the wiki.

Los Borrachos - - Click to Enlarge


Las Meninas - - Click to Enlarge

We also have been studying El Greco, a Greek painter who earned notoriety and fame in Spain (hence the name). His style is a combination of Mannerism (loose, distorted), and Byzantine style (flat, symbolic). He tried his best to become a court painter for the king, but failed for unknown reasons. Nevertheless, he is one of the most well-known painters of all of Spanish art (though he is not truly a Spaniard, having been born in Crete). The painting below is The Vision of Saint John. Note the surrealism, and the small size of the head in proportion to the rest of the body. Notice also that the figures seemingly have black outlines. These are all common traits of works by El Greco.

The Vision of Saint John -

We also have studied the Palacio Real. The Palacio Real is a beautiful building, constructed in the style of Versailles. The place it inhabits now was once an Arabic alc√°zar, but the original building burned down in a tragic fire (the original building contained a spired tower where Vel√°zquez painted Las Meninas–hooray trivia!). The Palace is rarely used by the king now except ceremonially, but it has unrivaled beauty (well, except Versailles). My most lasting memory of it is the Throne Room, lined with expensive mirrors and beautiful red felt walls. The room is rather dark in reality, which when combined with the gothic, infinite nature of the room (thank you mirrors) and the statues of the Roman gods makes you feel small and intimidated, as the king would have wanted you to feel. It is, without a doubt, my favorite room in the world.

We also managed to head over to the Reina Sof√≠a, where we managed to glimpse a few works of Goya, Salvador Dal√≠ (notably The Great Masturbator, a painting with an incredible, albeit twisted, back story), and Picasso. As these artists will be covered in art history class in the future, I won’t talk about them too much, but I will say that Guernika, one of the most important paintings in the world, is not let down by its stature: the painting is ginormous, occupying an entire wall by itself.

Besides taking trips, other fun new things have transpired. The DiM program has an intercambio system, where Spanish students who want to practice their English and help the Americans with their Spanish can request a buddy. Essentially, the school helps you find a friend or two, and I was blessed with some pretty cool people.

My first intercambio is named Felix. He is a very international sort of man of the world who speaks Spanish, German, and decent English. We met on a Friday night to go clubbing. I met him and his posse near CEU, where we all chatted in a mini plaza with benches, then proceeded to the club. It was one of many nights where I didn’t actually come home until around 6 or 7 AM–and usually when I leave the clubs, they’re still full. One of his buddies knew English natively, so I had a very bilingual night.

The other intercambio’s name is Pedro, an incredibly impressive 21 year old Spaniard. He works at a law firm, and he actually taught himself English using nothing more than grammar books and novels. I repeat, the man¬†has never taken an English class. He told me that I’m only the fourth person he has ever actually spoken English with, which is incredibly impressive and practically unbelievable given his proficiency. He and I got along impeccably, and I expect us to become really good friends. He’s an incredibly interesting and entertaining guy to be around.

I think I’ve finally gotten caught up. Nowadays I have a pretty solid routine, and most of my time now is spent going to class, going to the gym, reading, browsing the internet, or what have you. I’ve gotten a lot closer to my host family, too–as my Spanish has improved so has my ability to get to know them. I also ventured to try soccer with the CEU kids. They are incredible. I thought I heard from someone that some of these kids are being considered for the national team circuit, and I’d absolutely believe it. They rocked my world the first time I played with them (though I did manage to score a few times). I’m returning this Tuesday to play with them again, but I admit that the impending embarrassment dampens the excitement a little bit… They are, however, very nice gentlemen and I do enjoy playing with them.

Anyway, I hope all the readers are enjoying themselves in the States (or wherever they may be). Miss you all, love you all. I promise I’ll try to be a bit more diligent with updates in the future. Here are some pictures to distract you! ¬°Hasta luego!

Categories: Class, Culture