Sunday, April 18, 2010

The update

I received a letter in the mail a while back from my grandparents filling me in on the new happenings in Nebraska. At the end of the letter, my grandma mentioned that she would love to hear more about my classes and the study aspect of my study abroad experience. At this suggestion, I realized that I had barely mentioned class in any of my posts in quite some time. Now that I am about half-way done with my classes, I guess my grandma is right- an update is due.

I am taking mostly history and literature classes on subjects ranging from Modern Latin America to Romantic Spanish Literature. The classes I take directly at the university are smaller than most of my classes at Michigan and are much more focused on the lecture than discussion or class participation. Students take notes in paragraph form, I'm assuming writing down every single word the professor says. Monday through Thursday I take classes almost straight from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm and I then head home for lunch. My favorite class so far is probably my modern Latin America class which (despite what modern means to most of us) covers Latin America from 1492 through the 18th century. Because Sevilla had a monopoly on all the trade to and from the Americas during this time, the professors have access to incredible amounts of information and documentation about the Americas during this time sitting right next door to the Universidad in the Archivo de las Indias. The class is taught by two professors- the lecturer is this jolly older man whose passion for the material he's teaching is apparent. He remains incredibly concerned that his American students will not understand the cultural background that is often needed to "get" what he is explaining about life in the Spanish colonies and takes time after class to check in with us. The other professor is a younger woman who wears impeccably put together outfits every day and whose gaze can cause me to squirm and wish I could sink under my desk. She is in charge of taking us through the original documents that pertain to the lecture from the week and has us read aloud from old Spanish texts... When native speakers struggle to get through the texts... well, you can imagine that it is particularly mortifying for the non-natives!  

The classes also have very little day to day work and are almost all exclusively graded on your final paper and/or exam. The problem with this is that it is very easy to forget that not everything can be put off until June. Right now, I have 8 article responses, two final research papers that need to be approximately 10 pages long, a journal and a fair amount of supplemental reading... to start! And that's all to finish before I can think about the exams. So, while it has been great to lay on the beach and travel nearly every weekend, we will all have to face reality pretty soon here! 

But it's hard to get in the rhythm of buckling down to work when in the last month alone, I've had a full 18 days of class off! My friends have travelled all over Europe in the past month and many of them have facebook albums entitled things along the line of "Vacation from vacation." For organization's sake, I'll have to write about my vacation from my vacation another time.

PS: there's another post RIGHT under this one that's new too :) 

The Passion - La Semana Santa

Coming from a religious background where focus is not on visual representations, Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla was a radically different way of celebrating Easter than I am used to. Sevilla is famous for its incredible Holy Week processions that begin on Palm Sunday and go all the way through Easter Sunday.

Each church marches through the city to present their 'pasos.' One paso depicts a scene of Jesus' passion larger than life and another shows the gilded and ornate Virgen Maria mourning. Each of these weigh more than 4,000 pounds and is painfully carried by as few as 40 'casaleros' who place the weight of the paso on the nape of their neck. Throughout the week, you see men walking throughout the city with stiff backs and sores on their necks. The pasos also include as many as 2,500 'nazarenos' that march solemnly in their long robes with crosses on their backs and, often, bare feet. The processions can take over nine hours to go through the whole city. 

During the day, though people are dressed in their finest mourning clothes, there is still an air of festivity as people press into the streets to see their neighborhood church's procession pass by. Women with black mourning veils hold giant clouds of cotton candy. Freshly made potato chips and candy are sold by street vendors. Their pride is apparent- I was told by at least one person at each paso that this Virgen or this paso was the most beautiful of them all. 

But at night, the air is different. On Maundy Thursday, the processions go through the entire night, holding vigil for Jesus' last night. The streets that were difficult to get through during the day become impossible to navigate. After fighting crowds on dark, packed streets, I finally made my way to one of the paso's routes at 2:30 am. I sat on the curb hoping that it was worth it. I was tired and my feet hurt and I still had another forty-five minutes until La Macarena paso was set to pass by the place where I was sitting. From the first nazareno to pass until the last, it would be two full hours. So I sat and waited, thinking about my own feet and discomfort much like the disciples must have waited that night in Gethsemane. 

After a while, a hush fell over the crowd that had gathered and the faintest sound of music (let this play in the background) could be heard. Everyone gets to their feet to look down the road, and you can see the shadows from the nazarenos' candles flicker on the buildings lining the street. The nazarenos begin to pass in a slow and steady march, each one hidden behind their hoods, lit up by the candles they are holding. Some are children and have started to fall out of their straight rows from being so tired. The older men carry the crosses and step on the cement with bare feet that are cut and bruised. 

The music becomes louder and the paso comes into sight. Above the crowd, the paso shows Jesus standing with two Roman guards at his side, one reading his sentence. Behind him sits Pilate washing his hands with his wife on her knees before him pleading for Jesus. Men dressed as Roman guards escort the paso as a band plays a funereal march on antique horns. The air becomes cloudy and perfumed with incense. 

(You can see a video of the paso Cristo de la Sentencia here) 

Shortly after, the Virgen de la Macarena comes through, tears on her face and bowed in prayer. The mantle of her dress trailed behind the paso. The mourning clothes that had seemed so out of place in the daylight now fit as the crowd respectfully and silently watches her pass. The women in their mourning veils let their tears fall down their faces without brushing them away.

Later, as I walked back home near dawn, I came across another paso. I stopped just in time to see the paso of Jesus and the two thieves hanging on the cross go by the Catedral as the dawn started to turn the sky pink.

Jesus' Passion was literally played out through the city- His story represented in the majesty and richness that is often forgotten. While He was not robed as a King when He stood in front of Pilate that night, the pasos reminded me that He was our King and God. He was put on the cross with disgust and hate, but each flower, candle and golden artifact and faithful nazareno and casalero painted a vivid picture of how these events were seen from Heaven. He didn't walk to the cross alone, but mourned by multitudes of angels who could see His majesty through the blood even if we could not.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Negotiation

Please note that the title of this blog is in no way related to the Jersey Shore.

My friends have made a few observations on my walking patterns. Amanda says I walk erratically and that she can never predict when I'm going to suddenly change direction, stop, turn, or weave on the sidewalk. Court remarked that it is incredibly hard to share an umbrella with me for this very reason. Gayle has said that I'm the worst person in the world to try to get somewhere with because I'm always suddenly stopping and looking at something in a shop window, a view, or a sign. All said, I'm not the model of an efficient pedestrian. But until two weekends ago, this erratic way of walking had never really caused me much inconvenience.

Then I went to Morocco. I toured Tetuan and Chefchouen to celebrate my friend Amanda's birthday. When I had pictured Morocco, I thought desert and camels, but instead was surprised by rolling, lush hills and serene blue and white cities perched in the mountains. There was a new color and a new sight at every corner and I was in full wandering-around-with-mouth-agape mode.

The blue walls of Chefchouen's old medina 

But there not paying attention to where you are going carries the risk of running into donkeys, rams or chickens. Stopping to look at something that catches your eye in the window means having to spend five minutes trying to persuade the vendor that you don't want to negotiate a good price, you were only looking! While many of the shop owners were persistent that they had the very best prices in the city, it wasn't until I went to the famous Berber rug cooperative that I met my match.

As I was on a guided group trip, they took us to the co-op and had the members present some of their rugs and explain their process of handmaking the rugs with natural dyes and explaining the different techniques of each of the villages in the cooperative. After the presentation, he said that if anyone was interested in more information about any of the rugs, to just indicate so and he'd have someone come talk to you. "No pressure" was what he assured us. 

Some of the natural dyes being sold in the streets in Chefchouen

Many of the rugs were breathtaking, and one in particular caught my eye. Knowing enough about rugs to know that they weren't exactly in a poor college student's budget, I just wanted a closer look at the rug and to find out a little more about it. Suddenly, one of the Berber men escorted me and the rug into a separate bargaining room and began asking me what I would pay for the rug. None of my friends were allowed into the room with me as "Berber prices secret." Intimidated to say the least, I tried to beg my way out of the situation by saying there was no way I could pay any reasonable price for the rug. The negotiator wasn't having that. After nearly 15 minutes of trying to escape, he finally realized that I was firm on not being able to pay for a full size rug and let me go. I stepped out of the room completely jangled but happy to say that I walked out of there without being convinced to take the rug. That should teach me to window browse in the future! 

PS: Check back soon for some more blog posts! I've had a few in the works and just need to finish them up and get them online :) 

Happy Easter Week: 
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!- 1 Peter 1:3 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The extranjera

I have now been in Sevilla for 7 weeks. Slowly but surely, I'm getting my bearings and starting to feel competent in somewhat navigating the city. I've sorted out my neighborhood on my runs, I've found my favorite place for pan de chocolate and slick short cuts to all my classes. Yet, not a day goes by that I am not reminded that I am still a stranger. 
Universidad de Sevilla

The past two weeks have been dedicated to choosing our classes at the Universidad de Sevilla and testing them out to find a class schedule for the semester. Spanish students have much less freedom in their course selection than the average American liberal arts student and actually enter the university with a set major. They are coursed through their degree with few elective classes. As such, the university does not go out of its way to make the course selection process very transparent or user-friendly...

Likewise, the building where I take all of my classes is the old tobacco factory of Sevilla and seems more like the Minotaur's labryinth than an educational facility. Just to give you an idea, there two different departments hosted in the building, and each has their own room numbering system. There are two of every room number and there is no way besides trail and error to decide whether you are in Aula 7 of Filogia or Aula 7 of Historia! But, after sitting in on the first couple minutes of beginner English, two whole classes of a year long art history class that had been going since September and a class that turned out to be a practical class on reading ancient scripts for history majors, I think I've actually figured it all out and am now ready to conquer :).

But even when I'm not in the wrong class at the wrong time, I might as well be wearing a sign on my back that says "Americana." Loli kindly told me that "no tiene cara de americana," which roughly means that I don't look like an American, but I think she may have been trying to flatter me. In my contemporary art history class, the professor stopped mid sentence and mid lecture when he spotted me to ask if I was "una extranjera" and if I was understanding everything alright. As everyone's head swiveled in my direction to stare, I knew my cover had officially been blown. No amount of high heeled boots and giant earrings, or even my more olive-y skin was going to help me now.

However, in the classroom, I can rely on my Spanish to blend in a little bit more. On the dancefloor- that's another matter entirely. Last night Gayle and I went to a bar nearby that hosts salsa dancing in the basement (for Gayle's own embarrassing episode see her blog post). We went with the intention of being complete wallflowers and just watching these immensely talented dancers all night. Of course, by the night's end, I had someone ask me if I wanted to dance. Gayle grabbed my coat and purse out of my hand and shoved me onto the dance floor before I could stammer "No puedo bailar! Ni un poco!" (translation- I can't dance! Like, not even a little bit!) But the man assured me that he could teach me and it is very easy to follow salsa so I had no need to worry. 

He underestimated me. Since I don't want to have to relive the longest 3 minutes of my life over again, I'll just say that he was kind enough to drag me through the rest of the song then let me return to my proper place on the wall. 

I guess these are the kind of experiences that make living in a new country difficult. But, they are also motivation to keep working. As a result of last nights epic dancing failure, Gayle and I are spending today using the marvels of modern technology to learn some basic salsa dance steps via youtube and Addicted2Salsa's podcasts! If all goes according to plan, you won't be able to tell me apart from the espaƱoles in the classroom, the streets or the dancefloor. 


Lastly, a small eulogy for Chispi, the meanest cat in all of Spain, who was put down yesterday. I'm sure we would have become great friends if we'd just had a little more time togther. In her honor, you should all view one of my favorite pet funerals of all time- Lucky the Goldfish's Funeral. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

The lampara preciosa

I have always really enjoyed Valentine's Day. As a holiday, it has a lot going for it- my favorite color is red and Valentine's color happens to be red as well. There are ribbons, lace, bows and dressing thematically. There are chocolates and cute cards and romantic songs. At home, there is Valentine's brunch with the family and flowers to brighten up the dull February days. And, usually a surprise from my own dear Valentine. As this is my first holiday away from home, it was easy to forget that things might be far more different than I had expected. 

I woke up today to Loli's usual "A comer!" at our door calling us to lunch. I bounded (ha) from bed and spiced up my pajama outfit with my sparkly red and silver headband to start this Valentine's off right. Once at the table, I wished Alberto, Loli and Amanda Happy Valentine's Day! Loli looked a little confused and Alberto just looked down at his soup and kept eating. After a moment, she said, "Don't wish us a happy Valentine's! Neither of us have sweethearts!" It seems that Valentine's here is pretty exclusively for los amantes and less of a day about platonic love. Looks like Amanda and I, with our sweethearts across the ocean, were out of luck. 

But then again, it makes sense that Valentine’s isn’t as the widespread and colourful holiday here as it is in the US. My hypothesis is that February simply isn’t as horrible here as it is back home (there’s a reason February is the shortest month of the year...). In Sevilla, you don't wonder whether the sun has ceased to exist altogether and your tears don’t freeze in your eyes whenever you step outside. With these tradeoffs, Valentine’s Day can be a little muted.  It's not a bad deal- with weather this nice and temperate, who really needs gaudy and splashy holidays?

Or so I would have thought if not for last night. Last night was Carnaval in Cadiz, one of the biggest carnivals in the world. Amanda and I made our way through the streets of Sevilla dressed up as an Indian squaw and a lamp, respectively. We met up with the geek, the tree, the devil and the starry night (among many others) and hopped on a bus headed for Cadiz. 

(Lyndsay as the tree, Chantel as the geek, me as "La Lamparita," Gayle as a starry night and Melissa as a she-devil)

After an hour-long ride, full of hit jams with lots of sing-along potential, we disembarked and joined the throngs of noisily clad people walking through the streets. True to form, the Spanish kept it simple and social. There were no grand floats, parades or music. Instead, the attraction was the fellow revelers. Creative costumes were complimented and the aim of the night was to make sure you had at least a quick chat and a photo taken with each and every single person you thought had a great costume. I am proud to say that my $5 lampshade constituted a great costume and I was in high demand all night! Every where I went, I heard “Lamparita! Lamparita!” Here are my favorites:

#5 The explorers

#4 The baby bunnies

#3 The fleas? 

#2 The Valentine's Hearts

#1 The chickens! 

The streets were full to the brim with costumes as crazy or crazier than the little sample that I just provided. Each plaza and side street brought new costumes and new friends to meet. But as the night hurried onwards towards dawn, even a crew as creatively dressed as ours got a little tired, so we grabbed some chocolate churros and hopped back on the bus to Sevilla and finally reached our warm wonderful beds at about 6:00 am. Talk about a once in a life-time night! 

As I sat at dinner later in the day, I decided my Valentine’s Day had gone pretty well, even if it lacked a little in the cheesy heart department. The celebration may have been a little different, I kept my red headband on throughout the day as a reminder of the many people back home that I love and recognition of the true blessing it is to be able to have such a strong community of people who love me back in my family, church, and school.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. – 1 John 4:9-11

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The gleaner

A few years ago, my dad had me take the Strength Finders test to assess my "personal aptitudes and talents." One of my top strengths/themes as determined by this test was:


"People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them...

You glean -- that is, collect bits and pieces -- as much information as you possibly can about your areas of greatest interest...Because of your strengths, you may be excited about discovering new facts about historic events or key people. "

As this is a very accurate description of my learning habits, these last few weeks of my program's orientation have left me happy as a clam. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. This week, I am required to put all my newly gleaned information to a constructive end and write two essays and take an exam! As my "strengths profile" indicates, "the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites" me.

To make this a little more bearable, I thought I would share a few of my fun facts that I have learned while I am here that surely will not show up in any exam.

Fact #1
Have ever noticed balcony railings that bow out at the end? While it had an aesthetically appealing effect, it allowed ladies with full hoop skirts to stand by the railing on the balcony without having the fullest part of their skirt at the bottom be crushed out of shape!

Fact #2
The oranges that grow on the trees in town are far too bitter to be eaten, but are harvested to make a very delicious tart orange marmalade.

Fact #3
Sevilla's crazy tiny and windy streets were not designed only to confuse young study-abroad students. They served as important defense in years gone by. When an invading army tried to take the city, the lack of straight or wide streets severely slowed the attack and gave the defense a vital chance to organize and surround the enemy.

Fact #4
After Goya suffered an illness that made him deaf, he became depressed and secluded himself in a house that he covered with dark and sinister wall paintings. One of the more famous murals shows Saturn devouring his son. Many scholars suspect that this was a semi-autobiographical painting that showed Goya's sense of guilt over the death of five of his six children before they reached adulthood. They believe that the lead exposure from the paint was enough to complicate Goya's health but more than enough to kill a young child.

Fact #5
It is illegal to sell oysters in the streets in Spain. Without proper refrigeration, the oysters will die and, if not eaten live, can cause a fairly vicious food poisoning. A total of 12 people from my group found this "fun fact" out the hard way this weekend after eating raw oysters in Cadiz and spent the majority of the weekend on IV's in a Spanish hospital! (Don't worry- everyone's well now!)

That's all the time we have now folks, but tune in later for more Fun Facts with Haley!

PS: Thank you to everyone who has been sending me mail!! I have gotten a new card or postcard or package every day for the last four days!! Despite all the advances in technology, it's hard to beat snail mail :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The birthday girl

I am only slightly notorious for procrastinating and running around getting things done at the very last second. And, much to my chagrin, I have continued this pattern (only in the mornings though) in Sevilla. As I rush around the apartment in the morning, Loli fusses at me and tells me that I need to just wake up a little earlier so that I can eat a proper breakfast and dry my hair. With a piece of Nutella-ed toast in hand (that my less chronically hurried roommate Amanda has prepared for me) and one foot out the door, I try to explain to Loli that I just don't do mornings really well. So far, I have been wished "buen provecho," the equivalent of bon appetit, twice in the apartment elevator. 

But this post is not about breakfast. Instead, it is about a certain wonderful roommate and my tendency to procrastinate. Twenty-one years ago today, Ms. Kate Gilliam was born! And, when this realization that this important birthday came to me two weeks ago, I began to brainstorm what wonderful Spanish gift I could get in the mail in time. So far, I haven't found anything that would be perfect/of a reasonable size to ship. So, once I accepted defeat and decided a tangible gift may have to wait until I return to the US laden with gifts like a summer Santa, I began to think of something else that would show her I'm thinking about her on her birthday. As she has kindly told me that she has my blog first on her bookmark bar (an honor!), I thought a new blog post would be a small token for the time being. 

This blog post will include a few things that have reminded me of Kate while I have been here, some of my favorite things about Kate, and some of the things that I think Kate will enjoy. So happy birthday Kate! Enjoy your birthday post... and I promise a real present is coming later! :) 

Before continuing, you must click the link and have the flamenco guitarist playing in the background while you read

Last night, the program went to the Casa de la Memoria, a small house that puts on flamenco shows every night. The show took place in an Arabic courtyard lit by lanterns and floating candles. While the show included both dancing and solo flamenco guitarists, I had to smile to think that between our many candles and our visiting guitarist Marc, Dean A rivaled La Casa de la Memoria. I was hoping that they would perform a flamenco version of "99 Red Balloons" or "If I Had a Boat," but had to settle for what was provided. The dancers, or bailaors, were stunning. When the bailaor stepped out in his bright red shirt and corresponding red boots, intense eyes, and dark ponytail, I think every woman in the room swooned. Similarly, every woman in the audience swooned  again (this time with envy!) when they saw the bailaora's beautiful dress and the way she was able to dance, snap, clap, twirl, and tap her foot to the beat of the guitars seemingly all at once. 

Then today was spent in Cadiz- the city surrounded by the sea. As our guide led us through the city, she boasted that it was the most ancient city in all of Spain, settled by the Phoenicians, and later conquered by Carthage, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moor, the English and the Irish all since 1104 BC. There are Roman theaters, giant white cathedrals on the edge of the ocean, and winding, narrow streets of white houses to keep cool in the hot summers. If I were to be an engineer or architect, and put in charge of building a cathedral, the story would probably be similar to the story of how the new Cadiz cathedral was built: The new cathedral was built over a span of 116 years and because it took so long, it ended up being partially baroque and partially rococo and partially neoclassical  They also began building in a time of great prosperity and imported the best Italian pink marble to build with. Unfortunately, the good times did not last and they began to look for cheaper materials and used a form of sea rock with high levels of salt. While this was cheap and easily accessible, it also expanded greatly in the summer months and there are now nets on the cathedral ceilings to keep the chunks of falling ceiling from hitting those below. As you can probably see, there are a few similarities to my essay-writing process and the Cadiz church-building process. 

For lunch we sat around and had tapas and fresh apple and orange flavored sangria for over two hours, with each person discussing their traumatizing first kiss experiences. After we had been sitting there enjoying ourselves, we decided it was time for coffee and postres (dessert!) but that we needed to explore a new plaza. On the way, I stumbled across the cutest dress and was unable to leave it behind (you'll love it... it's very hippie meets Europe) So after finding a coffee shop, a bakery, AND an ice cream shop, everyone was happy and we continued our relaxed day in the oldest city in Spain. 

All in all, days like these are meant to be shared with friends, and I am so thankful that I have friends like Kate who can make a Saturday night of deciding it is too cold to go outside as fun as a night of flamenco dance and who can understand and encourage me when I'm making a cathedral out of the molehills in my life. I sincerely hope that your birthday is special and wonderful and that you know without a doubt that you're loved, appreciated, and dearly missed for the wise, compassionate and extraordinary woman that you are! 

Dean A!