Walking the Halls

April 7, 2011 1 comment

So I’ve been really bad about updating the blog, and I’m sorry. I still intend to write two more blog posts: one about Cuenca and the other about Amsterdam. Oh blog posts, I meant to write you sooner, but I just been busy. Anyway, to sort of hold everything over until I get a bit more time (this weekend I think), I decided to photograph my walk to school this morning. I’ll just put it in a slideshow below with a bit of commentary. Look back again this weekend!

Here’s the route on Google Maps

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Categories: Culture

Extra, Extra, Read All About It!

March 20, 2011 2 comments

Now, I’m only speaking from my experience, but let me tell you: sometimes when you’re visiting a foreign country, the stars align and you get to do something really freakin’ cool. I’ve got to do and see some pretty cool things in Spain so far, but yesterday I did something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life: I got to be an extra in a music video for Luis Ramiro.

The process of becoming an extra in the music video started when I was still at Duke. Jacob was showing me some Spanish music, and Luis Ramiro was one of the artists that he played for me. I really liked the album Jacob had, particularly the songs Esdrújulo and Relocos y Recuerdos, and I became somthing of an addict to his music. I started listening to his first two albums a lot, even memorizing a lot of the songs. I added him as a friend on Facebook to keep up with him, and from there I learned that he was planning to release his new album. The day of its release, I downloaded it from the Zune Marketplace (I support him enough that I actually bought the album), and sent him a Facebook message that told him how much I liked it. He and I talked for a few short messages, and he was interested in my opinions, particularly as my first language isn’t Spanish.

About a week later, Luis sent out a Facebook message saying that he was looking for extras for a music video. I discovered that the location was in Madrid, and immediately RSVP’d. The day arrived, and I started the long Metro ride to San Cristóbal (it took me something like 40 minutes to get there on Line 3). In the same metro car as me were two 20-something year old women, and from their conversation I could tell that they were going to the same place as me. I decided to follow them to make sure I didn’t get lost.

The "Set" - Click to Enlarge

An official-ish looking person met us at the exit of the Metro station, and the small crowd materialized within the next ten minutes. He had a list of expected arrivals, around 60 people. Once he was satisfied that everyone was present, he led us to a nearby park. The park was quite pretty, and had lots of trees and nature–something that most of Madrid lacks. As we walked in, we saw Luis being photographed and he waved to us.

The Picnic Table - Click to Enlarge

The extras were corralled around a picnic table (with free Coke, water, and chips) and greeted by the director. The director was an absolutely hysterical man, constantly making jokes and goofing around–I’m surprised we got anything done. He started explaining what exactly we were going to do in the video. The extras would appear in the last 40 seconds or so of the music clip of his song “Un Amor Sin Estrenar”, which translates roughly to “A New Love”, but it’s a bit more… poetic than that. The director asked the people who had come as couples in relationships to come with him to help “demonstrate” what he wanted. He positioned them next to the trees and asked them to kiss, with the woman’s back against the tree. At that point we all understood–our roles in the music video were as lovers making out while Luis sang. And to those who didn’t bring a partner? Well, you were going to find one.

Luis directing his troops - Click to Enlarge

Though most of the crowd was in their mid-twenties, we all still giggled uncomfortably like we were in middle school. I think we were just generally a bit shellshocked–not in the sense that we were offended, but just that we weren’t sure how to react or how to break the ice. The director anticipated this, and he started a game to kind of loosen the mood and get people used to kissing strangers. He pulled a few stag members of the crowd out among the trees, and explained a game of tag that he wanted them to play. One person would be “it” and when he tagged someone, that person was frozen. The only way that person could be unfrozen was if he or she was given a kiss to start moving again. Of course, the game was kind of childish, but I think it did help cure some of the jitters a bit–alleviate some of the shyness.

I, however, decided I didn’t particularly want to play the game. For the spectators, it was quite amusing, and I didn’t want to be laughter fodder. The only way it could be avoided was to be in a “couple,” so I turned to the group of girls to my right (around 6 of them, including the two who had been on the Metro with me) and grabbed the hand of one of the girls and something between a suggestion and a plea, said, “¿Somos una pareja?” She laughed and agreed, as I don’t think she was wild about playing the game either, and I joined their group in conversation as we waited for more instructions.

The conversation I normally have with Spaniards I’m just meeting is sort of becoming a routine. How long have you been here? Where and what are you studying? What do you study in the US? Do you like it here? Where do you live in Madrid? How long have you known Spanish? I answer the questions, but then try to break the pseudo-monotony by responding with more questions to them. I found out that the girl I was partnered with was in her mid-twenties, a music teacher, and was really interested in visiting the USA someday. She’s not unique in that regard, as almost everyone I talk to tells me about their past trips to the USA, or of their future hopes to visit. Some of them, like Roberto, are really passionate about American culture, and kind of view the USA as a dream vacation. I feel like most Americans are constantly dying to vacation in Europe. I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side…

The funny director is in the blue, walking awkwardly - Click to Enlarge

Eventually, we were all placed in the forest and told to “act.” The director continued to keep it interesting, getting us mentally prepared before each take, shouting “Don’t get tired!” and “With the same passion as the first take!” and “Concepto primavera!” which means, “With the idea of Spring!” One time, he even screamed maniacally, “Love is in the air!” in English with a very thick accent, and I burst out in uncontrollable laughter. As the takes occurred, Luis walked among the couples singing in time with his song. At times, crowds of interested people walking through the park would gather and watch the takes.

The experience truly was fun, for multiple reasons. I got to see how a music video is made, for one. And of course, I got to make out with a pretty Spanish girl for a few hours. My brother, Jeff, tells me that this one event alone makes him feel inferior to me, and that what I got to do yesterday was legendary. I think he’s right. The only problem is, I think my life has now reached a climax. It is simply not possible to do anything cooler in the future. I’m already over the hill. 🙂

I’m not sure exactly when the video will be released, but I’ll be sure to link to it on here when it is. Additionally, there should be a big group photo that Luis took that I can link to as well. Luis plays a concert in Madrid on April 30th (it was originally scheduled in be in March), and there is no doubt in my mind that I’m going to attend.

I want to include a few more observations about Spain in this post as well:

  • Pedro, my Spanish intercambio, is improving a LOT with his English. I went to his house the other day where we played a bit of Playstation and then he taught me how to play padel. During these activities, we had our normal bilingual conversations, and it struck me that the boy is like a sponge. If I say an idiom just once, he remembers them and integrates them directly into the conversation when he’s speaking. For example, he’s noted that when I approve of some sort of plan to meet, I normally say, “Sounds good.” He says it all the time now. I suppose I’ve done something similar in Spanish, as I now say “pues” and “o sea” all the time as involuntary space-fillers in my speech. Maybe it’s one step closer to fluency? I don’t know…
  • Through teaching Pedro, I’ve learned a lot about the fundamental differences between Spanish and English. One of the best things about Spanish is that it is spelled phoenetically, meaning that you can read a word and know instantly how it’s pronounced. This is absolutely not the case with English. “Rough”, “dough” and “bough” all look like they should have the same sound–this would be logical, as they all end in the same sequence of letters. However, as we know, they sound entirely different. This is a huge problem for ESL students, as it’s something that must be memorized, not figured out. Additionally, English many more actual sounds. Spanish has 5 or 6 vowel sounds, whereas English has 20. Some of those 20 are extremely difficult for the Spanish to figure out how to create. Some of our consonants are difficult, too. For instance, the difference between the “a” in “cat” and the “e” in “edge” are virtually indistinguishable for his ear, and since that “a” sound doesn’t exist in Spanish. These are things I just simply never would have thought of previously.
  • I’ve noticed that even the sidewalks in Madrid are very different than home. Madrid is an old city, and I suppose this is evident everywhere. My home town has poured cement sidewalks, very gray and bland. Madrid, as well as everywhere else I’ve been here, has tiled bricks for their sidewalks. It’s the little things…
  • There is WiFi on the buses here. On the rare occasion that I need to be on the bus for a long amount of time, this is a nice little luxury to have. Honestly, the public transportation system here is incredibly nice. Much better than DC’s, for instance.
  • Everyone here smokes cigarettes. Literally, it’s everywhere. Somewhere around 40% of the population here habitually smokes, and I think that number might be higher among kids my age. I see a ton of people with packs, or with rolling paper and tobacco pouches, especially directly in front of the entrance to CEU. Heck, even Luis Ramiro smokes, and his future relies on the health of his throat and lungs! It’s rather unavoidable, and coming from a non-smoking household, this was actually a bit hard to get used to.
  • I think I’m losing my English. When I was talking with Agata and Nicole the other day, I accidentally switched to Spanish in the middle of a sentence and didn’t even realize it. I also misused words, malapropism-style. Lately, in general, I’ve found it hard to think of the words that I want to use. Writing this blog, for instance, is a tricky affair at times. It’ll come back when I get to America, but it’s kind of funny in my opinion.

The weekend of April 2nd, I shall be going to Amsterdam, which will be pretty awesome I hope! Spring break, I’m planning on going to Germany and Sweden, to visit Felipe Gaitain and the Wibergh family, respectively. I also still intend to walk through Madrid with a camera and just make that a blog post, as I think that could be pretty interesting to see.

All in all, things are going well here. I miss everyone at home of course, as well. It’s strange to think that my time here is about half over. I’m torn, as I miss America, but am finally starting to feel as though I have a life and a routine here. Oh well, what happens happens.

Until next time!

Categories: Culture, Language


March 20, 2011 1 comment

Hi everybody. Last weekend I went to Barcelona, and now I’m finally getting around to writing my little recap. I am going to try to write two blog posts over the next two days, one about Barça, and the other with more observations and the story of my participation of the filming of a music video. It’s definitely been an interesting week.

My trip to Barça didn’t really start out too well. The DiM crew had scheduled an 8 AM train ride on the Renfe Ave. The Ave is a pretty cool, modern train that shows movies during the trip and gives you free headphones. It’s also a high-speed train, traveling at 300 km/hr, or 187 mph. However, unlike everything else is this country, the trains are punctual–if they are scheduled to leave at 8 AM, they’re leaving at 8 AM. You’ve probably guessed, but I was about 30 seconds late, and had to pay to have my ticket changed: not a great start.

When I got there, I recall being really surprised that nothing was in Spanish. As you all may know, in Barça (as well as Cataluña in general and a lot of the surrounding area), the language Catalán is very prominent. It is something like a half and half mix between Spanish and French, and while it isn’t particularly difficult to figure out what the street signs and ticket booths said, I suppose I just didn’t expect there to be such a strong presence of a language other than Spanish in a Spanish city. Their usage of Catalán is actually somewhat political, with the nationalist movement that remains reasonably strong in Cataluña. This is a problem for students who study abroad in Barcelona, as oftentimes students will ask questions during class in Catalán and receive responses in Catalán, leaving the poor American student clueless.

The Sagrada Familia

After getting off the train, I went directly to the Sagrada Familia to meet up with the group. I’d like to point out that practically everything we did in Barcelona somehow involved the architect Gaudí. The Sagrada Familia was among his first projects, and also his last. He continued working on it his whole career, spending practically every day at the end of his life on site, overseeing the project. It remained incomplete for many, many years, but with the spike in tourism, starting with the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, tourism has provided the necessary funds for construction to continue. They say that the building should be finished in around 10 or 15 years.

Casa Batlló - Hideous

Speaking of Gaudí, we also saw other famous pieces of architecture by him, including the Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (AKA La Pedrera). The story behind the Batlló’s strange façade is that it is meant to tell the story of Saint George slaying a dragon. The top part is supposed to be the dragon’s skin, the cross to represent Christianity, and the columns and balconies in the shapes of bones and skulls represent, well, bones and skulls. I personally think it’s a hideous building, regardless of its architectural importance. The Milà isn’t particularly pretty either, but inside in the attic was rather impressive, as it used parabolic arches, and also housed a model of the building. Gaudí wasn’t much for blueprints, so he made models. As can be seen in the gallery, he actually made the plans for the arches with inverted chains that were viewed through a mirror. He utilized a similar technique to design the Sagrada Familia.

While with the teachers, we also visited the Mercat St. Josep (a big market like el Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid) and the Temple D’August. The Temple was pretty cool, as this old Roman temple (from the age of the Roman Empire, when the Romans had control of Cataluña–1 B.C. or so, I think) was essentially found inside the walls of the apartment buildings, then excavated. They’re relatively sure that more columns remain within the surrounding apartments, but they are unwilling to tear down all the apartment buildings to find them.

I ought to mention that it monsooned the whole time we were touring the above places with DiM profs Eva and Marcos, but the next day when we were on our own, the weather was far more agreeable. We went to the Parc Güell, another of Gaudí’s creations. Without visiting this park, I would have had a rather sour impression of Barça, but this place changed my perception immensely. The park was stunning, both in its views of the city and the sea, as well as the beauty of nature and the Gaudí-designed structures within the park itself. One famous area of the park is the plaza, where lots of people gather to watch street acts and to buy souvenirs. For example, we saw a very entertaining band, as well as a Flamenco dancer. You can also go underneath that plaza, among a forest of columns and trencadís artwork. We ate lunch there in the park–bread, fruit and wine from the Mercat–and generally relaxed in a beautiful place.

Umm, you mean bi-WINNING

Barcelona, on the whole, was an interesting experience. I think I expected it to be much more, and I am pretty sure I like Madrid better. To be fair, the weather was God awful for a lot of my trip, and I didn’t get to go to the beach, both of which surely skewed my perception, but I will say that I did enjoy the Parc Güell immensely. Furthermore, I would like to go back to the Sagrada Familia again someday. If nothing else, one could definitely say that visiting Cataluña was certainly culturally valuable, as one can’t truly experience Spain without experiencing Barça.

It’s around 2:00 AM right now, so I don’t think I’m going to try to start my second blog post tonight. Hopefully I’ll get it written tomorrow, because I’m really excited to write about it while it’s still fresh in my mind. I’ve also decided, this time around for this post, to throw all the pictures into a slideshow instead of a gallery. This prevents you from needing to scroll for a metric year, and I think it’ll work and look better. Anyway, hope to get the next post up soon, and I look forward to feedback.

Hasta pronto.

EDIT: Decided to include direct links to the panoramas, since they are rather small in the slideshow widget.


EDIT 2: Thea posted a YouTube video that chronicled our time in Barça, namely the Gaudí stuff. You can watch it here.

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Categories: Culture

Observations: Episode I

March 9, 2011 3 comments

Hey! So, this Friday (two days from now), we are going to be heading to Barcelona on a short two-day trip, so I’ll do a post-trip post when I come back. However, I’ve lately been trying to be more meticulous and actually write down my observations when they occur to me. Generally it’s just stuff that pops into my mind while I’m walking around the city, stuff like that, but I hope that these thoughts might be interesting. I think part of living in a place is recognizing the little things, and sharing them gives you all a sense of what it’s like to live in Europe from the point of view of a thoroughbred Yank. I’ll start the blog post with some of these observations, but also I will throw in some brief recaps of some of the things that I’ve been up to here.

The random observations:

  • I’ll start with one that’s really hard for me to get used to as an American. Here, in most areas of your day to day life, tardiness is more or less acceptable. I am still used to Duke (and America in general) where, if class starts at 10:05, you had better be in your seat by 10:00 so that you have everything ready when the professor starts lecturing, or else risk enduring his wrath. That’s not how it works here… If you’re on time, you frankly probably beat the professor to the classroom, and you will have ample time to twiddle your thumbs waiting for the rest of the class to get there, too. Generally speaking, five minutes late is on time. One of my professors put it quite eloquently, saying that “Spaniards don’t let the watch govern their lives.” I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.
  • Another thing I’ve noticed is a very random–something you don’t really think about. When you pass people on the sidewalk, to which side do you need to strafe to avoid bodily contact? Spain can’t make up its mind at all about lanes of traffic in general. Cars drive on the right side of the road, the Metro goes on the left. Sometimes you enter Metro station turnstiles on the left side, other times on the right. Escalators may be going upstairs on the left and down on the right, or vice-versa, with no rhyme nor reason–it’s just odd, like it’s entirely unplanned. When you find yourself in the sometimes inevitable situation where you need to walk around someone, they seem to have no real instinct as to which side to pick. I have sort of turned it into a little game, where I try to predict my opponent’s next move and steer clear in advance in order to avoid that awkward dance that sometimes results just before contact. It’s just an odd thing to have to consciously think about, as in America I think everyone just habitually walks past each other on the right. Am I wrong?
  • Here, the party scene is nuts. You generally can go out any night of the week, but particularly Thursday through Saturday. You generally start consuming at around 10 or 11, but the night can last (I kid you not) until 8 or 9 AM. It’s insane. I’m told it’s a big plus for getting Real Madrid players to live in Madrid. Beckham apparently was quite the addict of the clubs here–it’s common knowledge, I am told, that he cheated on his wife frequently.
  • PDA out in the open is really common. It is almost expected if you’re anywhere near a university that there will be at least one couple aggressively making out. I’ve also seen it in the Metro car and on the bus. After some thought, I believe the comparative openness is because people live with their parents here for so long–I admit that would be more awkward to engage in tongue fencing next to mommy or sissy than next to a rando.
  • The police cars here always keep their top lights on. They’re not flashing, but rather the blue lights are constantly lit. I can’t imagine that speed traps are particularly effective.
  • Everybody here listens to American music. When I ask about Spanish music, invariably they tell me that Spanish music sucks. They also think they know the lyrics, but usually they are comically wrong.

Random thoughts… gotta love them. It’s fun to record them, though. I carry around a little notebook to write down vocabulary words (I’m at around 600 right now), but when I get a little thought I sometimes write it in the margins.

As far as some of the actual things I’ve been doing, here goes:

  • Carnaval was last weekend, and it was a relatively fun experience. It’s a Brazilian tradition, but they also celebrate it here (to a far milder degree). Generally it involves a normal night of partying… plus costumes. Thea and I went with our two Italian friends from school, meeting them at their apartment. Finding the flat sucked, as we got caught in VERY cold rain halfway there. Upon arrival, they were still getting ready with makeup and such, so I just talked to the girls who were already costumed as I dried off. We then went to a club that they knew and liked. Upon arrival, the womenfolk were stormed by men (men here are very forward, even more so than a frat star in the US), but they handled it well. Generally it was a successful, fun night. I intend to hang out with them more, as they’re silly and exciting to be around.

Carnaval with the Italians - Click to Enlarge

  • My intercambio Pedro introduced me to his friend Roberto the other night. Roberto went to a British school in Madrid, learned English, and speaks almost fluently. From watching American TV and such, he has learned a lot of vocabulary and has quite the arsenal of phrases and idioms at his disposal (he said “gut it out” to me. I was stunned). A bit comically, he has essentially adopted an American accent. Spaniards have a lot of trouble pronouncing certain sounds, like the soft “g” in “hug” and the “i” in “igloo”, but Roberto speaks like he’s from the midwest–something he’s picked up from copying the sounds he hears in movies and in music. He’s a really cool guy. The three of us played billiards the other night, something I haven’t done in ages. Another cool thing about Roberto is that he admires American culture very extensively–bordering on being more patriotic than many Americans. I can’t wait till he visits!

Me, Roberto, and Pedro playing billiards at a bar near the Bernabéu - Click to Enlarge

  • I bought a plane ticket to Amsterdam for the weekend of March 31. Of course that will be another blog entry. Additionally, I’m intending to visit Felix’s (my brother’s roommate’s) family in Sweden over Spring Break. If I can make it happen, I’d also like to visit a contact in England and Felipe Gaitan in Germany. We’ll see what happens, but at the very least I’ll get to see the Netherlands and Scandinavia–not a bad deal at all.
  • As a result of having worn braces, I currently have a permanent retainer on my bottom teeth, and about two weeks ago or so, it broke free on three of the six teeth it was connected to (once one breaks, you get a domino effect). I managed to secure an appointment with an orthodontist today, and they fixed it in less than 20 minutes for less than 20 dollars. When I had a similar repair done in the USA in Chapel Hill, it cost me 150 bucks. I was floored that it was so cheap. It was certainly unexpected, because everything else here costs a fortune.


  • I wrote an essay for Art History about the transformation of Velázquez’s style over the course of his lifetime, and the effects that his exposure to Italian art had on his works. If you want to read it (or just look at the pictures) you can read it here. I think the Spanish is relatively well-written, but I’m certain it could be improved to sound more native. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with it.

All right, the next time I update this will be post-Barcelona. I’m still ticked that their football club beat Arsenal yesterday. I went with Roberto to an Irish Pub called Shamrocks to watch and left a tiny bit disappointed. They have a frustratingly good team. Anyway, with that, I bid you all adieu.

¡Hasta luego!

Categories: Class, Culture, Language

Class, Toledo, and the Bernabéu

February 21, 2011 2 comments

I’ll mention it early: leave comments! Feedback! What’s cool to read about, what’s less interesting. Surprise me! You shouldn’t even need to create an account to comment…

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 🙂

  • 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 País Vasco and in Cataluña 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 Velázquez, 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, Mónica, 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 Bernabéu. 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 - capsulecomputers.com.au

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 España 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 Alcázar (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 façade 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 Velázquez‘s paintings in the Prado. Velázquez 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 (Velázquez 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 - eatdrinkbetter.com - Click to Enlarge


Las Meninas - wikipedia.org - 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 - wikipedia.org

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 alcázar, but the original building burned down in a tragic fire (the original building contained a spired tower where Velázquez 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 Sofía, where we managed to glimpse a few works of Goya, Salvador Dalí (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

The Influence of the Arabs

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Bear with me for a moment: Does anyone else feel as though there’s a difference between knowing something and understanding it? For instance, one can stare at a sheet of paper before a history test and be able to write down the date of an event, know the basic shape of a continent, or perhaps the funamental beliefs of a certain group. A week later, you won’t be able to recall the details, but you’ll maybe still remember the gist. Then, one day, some prompt forces you to retrieve this information, in the context of something new, and you suddenly understand it much better than you ever did in the past. Perhaps I’ve explained awkwardly, but this is sort of how I felt when I went to Andalucía; it was something that I should have always known, and yet it is a connection I only truly understood upon arrival–Spain is heavily influenced by the Islamic culture.

Hold onto that thought for a while, and I’ll talk about my trip.

Well, after a super early bus ride, we arrived in the old city of Granada. We ate lunch and met up later in the afternoon with our professors and with our knowledgeable tour guide, Fernando. Our first stop was at the Capilla Real (the Royal Chapel – wiki), a charming little place with a rich history and a few very interesting works of art. Though it had some interesting paintings, by far the coolest thing about it was that it contained the tombs of King Fernando (Ferdinand) and Queen Isabel (Isabella), monarchs from the 15th century. Royalty, especially of their magnitude, deserve illustrious  graves, and such places of rest they do receive. Fernando and Isabel are both decorated very ornately, their marble countenances wearing grand clothing, carrying staffs, and sleeping peacefully. Fernando informed us that generally it is only kings who are adorned with lions, yet both Isabel and Fernando had the lions at their feet. In reality, Isabel was far from a ceremonial figurehead. She was Queen of Castille and León, and famously met Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) when he sought financing to sail West (a bit more on this later). Actually, to call Fernando and Isabel equal, we learned, might be understating Isabel’s role in government. Upon closer inspection of Isabel’s tomb, one discovers that her head contours into her pillow significantly farther than Fernando’s head into his. The sculptor suggests that her head is heavier, filled with more intelligence than Fernando’s. Isabel was clearly an important figure in Spanish history. Underneath the marble statues are five caskets (Ferdinand and Isabella, as well as daughter Juana la Loca, her husband Felipe el Hermoso, and their son Miguel). You walk down a set of stairs to catch a glimpse of the coffins. Miguel was only a child when he died. The tiny casket is a bit heartbreaking.

The Tombs of Fernando and Isabel - tuhotel.wordpress.com

While the Chapel was nice, Granada’s beauty was truly revealed the next day. We began the next day by taking a taxi to the very top of Granada–which happens to be amidst the Sierra Nevada mountain range–where we got some incredible pictures, one of which is seen below. Walking back down, you get a sense of the things that a foreigner might expect to see in Spain: little houses piled on top of one another, with narrow, zig-zag, cobblestoned roads. It is here that you start seeing the Arabic influence. On the walk down, there were lots of Arabic shops, selling Hookahs or little crafty purses. One of the salesmen, who sold Thea and Mónica a coin purse and wallet, said that he was one of a number of people in the region who spoke Arabic better than Spanish. I’ll place a gallery at the end of this post with more pictures.

Me in Sevilla, España

After walking back down from the summit, we visited La Alhambra. While initially constructed by Muslims for Emirs, the area was overtaken by the Catholics in the late 1400s. The entire place, really sort of an association of lots of cool buildings as opposed to one palace, includes the Gardens of Generalife, and the Palacios Nazaríes. Though it was used for formal business, Fernando told us that some of the more ornate areas were for the Royal Family to relax without needing to worry about politics. One can see why–it was beautiful. Not only were there lavish gardens, but the lovely Arabic architecture. Oh yeah, and the view:

Sevilla, España - Click to Enlarge

The above picture, and a few others available in the gallery, were taken from the highest tower in the military area of La Alhambra. Interestingly enough, the prettiest view came from the least attractive building. There was a small army outpost in La Alhambra to protect the city, and it was designed for function, not beauty.

I’ve also included some other really cool pictures. They sort of go without explanation: just very intricate and ornate, geometric pattern. A beauty in simplicity and pattern, I think.

Also at La Alhambra was a short Henri Matisse exhibit. He spent time at the palace, and quotes exist where he expresses how the place inspired him. In the was one of his famous still life paintings (below) as well as a charcoal sketch of his famous The Dance. I have no pictures of my own as cameras inside the exhibit were prohibited.

Matisse was inspired by La Alhambra - moma.org

Additionally, Washington Irving spent time at La Alhambra. Plaques and pictures commemorating him can be seen at various places in the city, including at La Alhambra itself.

Washington Irving wrote in these rooms his stories of La Alhambra in the year 1829

The following day, we went to Sevilla. We got a much needed late start (much needed for me, anyway) and met in front of the Fuente de la Plaza Virgen to begin our guided tour through Los Reales Alcázares. Alcázar was overtaken by the Spanish as well, becoming one of the Royal Palaces as well. It is laden with beautiful gardens, as well as impressive artwork. While all that remains throughout most of the place is just the careful etchings in the wall, there are some places where the original colors can still be seen. As is also the case in La Alhambra, all of these designs used to be painted, and I can only imagine just how beautiful they must have looked in their prime. This is another place where the pictures do more justice than words–more geometric patterns, more pretty Arabic influence. I ought to mention that I here managed to drop my camera onto a marble floor, so I don’t have as many pictures as I would have liked. I’m really kicking myself at having accidentally made the subconscious decision to prohibit myself from taking pictures of the room where it is said that Queen Isabel met Cristobol Colón prior to his departure for “India”. I’m still mad at my butterfingers… anyway, check the gallery for photos.

Seville Cathedral - Magnificent work of art, structurally and internally - hotelesyvueltos.net

That night, we went to the Flamenco museum, a dance which turns out to have much more history to it than I ever imagined. For example, the shoulder movements in the dance come from Africa, the hand movements are from the Middle East, and additional influences come from Latin America. In fact, some of the songs verbally chanted by Flamenco singers are in Arabic. The Flamenco is a perfect embodiment of the coalescence of the cultures, an idea that was really reinforced in Andalucía on the whole. In the museum, we saw numerous examples of the dance, and were even given a lesson in the dance. I hope that video of that awkward event never surfaces for everyone else to see, but it really was pretty fun.

The Flamenco - smh.com.au

The next morning was our last day of scheduled DiM activities. We visited the Seville Cathedral. Hopefully I can find and add some pictures from other Dukies’ facebooks shortly. It was a grand place, containing huge structures in gold, and some that were only available to be seen by appointment. The coolest part was seeing the tomb of Cristobol Colón, which apparently contains only a few of his bones (and also some bones of another, unidentified person). We also climbed the tower of that building, and I will definitely be adding pictures of that view when I find them. Sevilla, from that perspective, seemed as though it had no streets–just a mass of buildings and cathedrals.

After the DiM activities ended, Thea, Mónica and I remained in a hostel for a few days. We generally just explored, and at night went out. My last night, we went barhopping with a large group from the hostel, which resulted in meeting many people from all around the world. I met an Australian, two Canadians (one of whom spoke four languages natively), a few Americans, a Dutchman, and a Belgian. It’s fun to hear the stereotypes about America from foreigners. “No, now that you ask, I have never worn a Cowboy hat.”

Back to the beginning: this trip really gave me a lot of perspective on just what it means to be Spanish, or to be in Spain. For one, and this may be more obvious to you folks than it was to me a week ago: Europe and Africa are really close together. Gibraltar, the bottom part of Europe that I mentioned in my last post, is only 15 km away from Morocco. Catholic and Arabic cultures are in close proximity to one another, and I suppose it is natural to think that there is some line between them. There is no line. Instead there’s a gradient, and Andalucía is the gray between the white and the black. My trip to Granada and Sevilla was truly something special. I thought to myself, wow, I’ve killed two birds with one stone here. Not only did I experience Spanish culture on this trip, but also Arabic culture. How embarrassing to have such a thought. In reality, Arabic culture is part of Spanish culture. And vice-versa. This was a moment of enlightenment for me–a sort of, “Chris, you big dummy, this is Spain.” Andalucía was much different than I had anticipated, and in the most wonderful of ways.

This upcoming week, school starts, so I’m not sure exactly when I’ll have interesting things to report again. Additionally, I’m going to start carrying around a notebook to both record new words that I’m learning (people tell me what words mean and then I forget them later). Random note aside, I’ll post on facebook when the new post is ready. Enjoy the photos!

Categories: Culture

To see the things you see in textbooks…

January 23, 2011 1 comment

Universidad CEU San Pablo - diarioya.es

Thursday the 20th was another relatively tame day. We took a tour of CEU (it is normally referred to as such, and is pronounced: SAY + the “oo” in pool) where we walked through a lot of the buildings and got a small feel for the “campus”. I say campus, though it’s nothing like a campus that I’ve ever been to. At Duke, we have a true campus, with lots of green space and a spiderweb of sidewalks crawling across it. There’s room to throw frisbees, or hold large parties on the quad, etc. At CEU, as is the case with all of the schools in this area that are all interspersed among one another, the school is part of the city. There are no lawns, and in fact to get to a lot of the CEU classroom buildings, you walk through or by sections of other schools. Though it’s a private school and the buildings themselves are quite nicely furnished, I admit it has something of a community college feel. I think it’s a trade-off–to be in the city of Madrid is exciting, but you sacrifice a bit of the American/Duke college feel that is more common at home.

I was, however, happy to see that there are places allotted for athletics. There is a caged area with a basketball/street soccer court as well as several padel tennis courts. Padel is like the tennis version of indoor soccer–bound by walls and played on a smaller court. It’s fast, and very fun to watch. Additionally, there is a small gym with weights and treadmills that I’ll probably try to get some use out of. Given the amount of food that Lili puts on my plate, it’s probably a good idea to use this area as much as possible…

Group picture in front of the Museo del Prado

The next day was an exciting one. We went to the Museo del Prado, the number 1 most visited art museum in Spain, and number 9 in all the world. Our group, now including the recently arrived Mónica, met at a nearby Starbucks at the Banco de España metro stop.

When we got to the Prado, Carmen, who gave us the tour of Madrid earlier in the week, led the way through the museum. She truly is magnificent and endlessly knowledgeable, telling detailed stories of the history of Spain with a passion and charisma unrivaled by anyone else so far in this country. As she taught, she walked us through the museum, continuing her narrative chronologically as we went. It was like receiving a condensed summary of Spanish art in a few hours, starting with early paintings from the inside of stone chapels, moving through to the ages and ending at the start of the modern era. As she showed us the paintings, she gave them meaning. Through works such as La Trinidad by El Greco, we learned (or re-learned) the concepts of Romanticism, such as a lack of symmetry and freedom with the expression of emotions.

La Trinidad - Click to Enlarge - wikipedia.org

From there, we moved to the exhibit of Diego Velázquez, and displayed in prominence, his Las Meninas. This work is probably the most famous at the Prado, is one of my favorite “obras” of all time, and is very open to interpretation. I like it because of its complexity. It is if we are viewing the scene from the point of view of the king and queen, watching Velázquez paint our point of view of the scene. We show up in the mirror, so that we are included in the painting, and Velázquez figures out how to paint all of this from his position. I won’t belabor my interpretation of the painting too much, but suffice it to say that I find this work of art brilliant and captivating–a totally different kind of genius than a scientist, but equally impressive.

Las Meninas - Click to Enlarge - wikipedia.org

We also saw a lot of Francisco de Goya‘s works, of which my favorite is Saturno Devorando a Su Hijo. This painting depicts the god Saturn eating one of his children as it had been foretold that he would have a child who would overthrow him. It’s a very gory painting, I suppose, but its story (and parallels one might be able to make between the painting and politics, etc.) make it a very interesting work.

Saturno Devorando a Su Hijo - Click to Enlarge - wikipedia.org

Another one of Goya’s that I hadn’t seen before is called The Dog, a sad little puppy who is half-obscured by some unidentifiable something. It’s just sad, but I don’t know why.

The Dog - Click to Enlarge - wikipedia.org

Talking about these things, I remember a lot of the excitement I had in my art history class in high school, and it makes me look forward to taking my Spanish art history class here.

Yesterday, the 22nd, I woke up late and watched Los Simpson with the family, then went with the Duke in Madrid crew to the Casa de Valencia, a restaurant that is known for its paella. Afterward, we attempted to watch the Duke basketball game at an Irish bar called Shamrocks. Because it wasn’t available, we instead rooted against Ohio State. They won anyway. Noteworthy: they served caipirinhas there.

Today has been relatively relaxed. Tomorrow, early, the DiM crew leaves for Andalucía, the southernmost province in Spain. We are going to visit the cities of Granada and Sevilla. I hopefully will be able to update this while I’m there, and I’m really looking forward to my time there!

I thought that in this post I’d include some other random things that didn’t truly fit into my narrative:

1) Madrid has Metro stations everywhere. I don’t think it’s possible to walk around the city without accidentally falling into one. Seriously, click that link and look. However, it turns out that this is incredibly convenient. I have an Abono Transporte, which gives me unlimited access to the Metro, the buses, and the trains. This really makes the city accessible for me, but I think it’s a small trade-off. Every time you take the Metro, you have lost the experience of walking through the city.

One of many: El Corte Inglés - arrakeen.ch

2) For every Metro, there are almost as many El Corte Inglés stores. I had never heard of them before coming here, but they’re like malls/supermarkets/Walmarts and they are absolutely pervasive. If you go to Madrid, you’ll know what I mean. They. Are. Everywhere.

3) I think I’m destined to become a Real Madrid fan. Watching soccer here is very exciting. As I write this, I’m watching Madrid play against Mallorca. Benzema just scored, in fact. Just now. My host family strongly support Real, and I don’t have any particular allegiance to anybody at the moment, so why not be a Madrid fan while I’m here? I know this will annoy Jeff…

4) I learned last night that Luis Ramiro, a Spanish singer that Jacob Hanger introduced me to before I left for Spain, is playing a concert (and I think releasing a new album) here in March. Only 15 euros for a ticket. I have to go. I love all his songs, but perhaps his most poetic is Relocos y Recuerdos. Luis sings of an Argentinian girl he met at a bar in La Latina. I’m going to visit that bar.

5) Fun fact about Andalucía: while it is the southernmost part of Spain, it doesn’t contain the Strait of Gibraltar. That spit of land technically belongs to Great Britain. Check it out.

6) The use of vosotros here is really widespread. Especially when you’re in a group, you’d be surprised how often you hear it. However, from one non-native speaker’s perspective, it’s not that bad. With context involved, you can figure out the verb tense, and then whenever you hear an -áis, -éis, or any sort is -ís sound at the end of the word, you can generally assume that they’re talking to the whole group. Same thing with -ad or -ed or -id: it’s a command given to the group. I post this mostly because I’ve gotten a lot of questions about vosotros. I must admit, though, it did worry me a bit before getting here.

7) I bought batteries for my camera. Hopefully I’ll have my own pictures to use for the next post instead of Google Imaging absolutely everything and having to stalk Megan’s facebook.

I’ll update again soon!

Categories: Culture