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!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The cultural excursion

I'm afraid I've let one whole week go by without updating my blog and, as a result, am at a complete loss about how to fit everything in. Here goes.

Over the last week, we have had a "cultural excursion" every morning before the afternoon classes and also spent the weekend in Madrid as a program. In summary, our awkward and slow-moving group of 35 has clogged the walkways in the following places:
  • Los banos arabes
  • Madrid's largest art museum, El Prado
  • Madrid's modern art museum, La Reina Sofia
  • El Palacio Real, built by King Philip V in 1734 to be the largest palace in all of Europe after the old wooden castle burned to the ground. You'll notice it is nearly all stone, as the King wanted to avoid another fire. Inside, there are more than 2000 rooms, nearly all of them decorated in gold, the most dazzling chandeliers, and silk wallpaper.

  • El Parque de Buen Retiro in Madrid
  • El Plaza Mayor
  • Kapitol, the largest discoteca in Madrid (7 floors, each with a different type of music being played!)
  • La Iglesia Santa Luisa de los Franceses, the pre-eminent example of Baroque architecture in Sevilla
  • Bodas de Sangre, a play by Federico Garcia Lorca

  • La Catedral de Sevilla, one of the largest cathedrals in the world. The mix of Arab and European architecture shows the strong influence the Moors (who ruled in Sevilla for 500 years) had on the Spanish even after it had been reconquered. The Catedral itself was built on top of the mosque that had stood there before

  • La Giralda, converted from a minaret to a bell tower at the Catedral

As the extensive list shows, I have been running from one place to the next and each deserves a post of its own. While I write this blog so that everyone can know what I'm up to, I also find that it has given me a chance to reflect on the memories that won't be captured in pictures. Without this, a year from now I probably wouldn't have remembered how the arab baths smelled of mint and chamomile or that our guide through the Prado, Santiago, went out of his way to take us to the best possible spot in the museum to view Velazquez's famous "Las Meninas" so that we could fully appreciate his mastery and use of perspective. These types of memories are what make a trip but are often the most quickly forgotten.

Though the history and the architectural facts about each of these places have been fascinating (and very helpful in adding to my stockpile of facts), it has been the small moments, often away from the group and in no particular place, that I have enjoyed the most in the past week. I have spent the long lunch hours, after I finish my sandwich and the sweet oranges Loli has packed for me that morning, wandering through the streets or simply sitting in the sun near the fountain in the center, people-watching and occassionally finishing up my reading before class. Or, on a less poetic note, realizing that for two weeks I have been asking for marijuana water (agua de grifa) instead of tap water (agua de grifo)! So, I hope you will all excuse the glossing over of many wonderful places I have been in the last week in my summary, but, for my own sake, I will attempt to not let so long go between posts again! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The romantic super-sleuther

Only a master like Pablo Neruda could make a poem that begins with "I love it when you shut up" romantic, but my setting alongside the Rio Guadalquivir in the sun as I did my 'homework' yesterday certainly helped him out. Said homework was to practice aloud and memorize the poem to improve our fluidity and pronunciation. The combination of the sun, the view, and the joyful 'task' at hand brought confirmation that I had picked a very apt name for my blog- the enchanted life indeed! By the way, upon my return, I will be taking requests for anybody who would like to be serenaded. You can get a preview of that here.

Besides practicing my Spanish woo-ing skills, I have also been sharpening my sleuthing skills as well. Generally speaking, my sleuthing skills have come in handy far more often than my woo-ing skills. Thus far, my sleuthing skills (combined with Amanda's) have led me to discover that Spanish people don't age. In my last post, I mentioned that my house madre was probably in her late 50's or so, and her son in his late 20's. Apparently, Loli is nearly 70 and Alberto nearly 40! As I just recently watched El Crepusculo (dubbed Twilight... and no, listening to Eduardo in Spanish did not make the movie any better) on the train from Madrid to Sevilla, my best guess on how this is possible is that I'm actually living with vampires. Amanda, on the other hand, is hoping that it's something in the Sevillan water and, accordingly, we're both keeping well hydrated!

Unfortunately, my sleuthing skills were not quick enough to save me from eating fish ovaries at lunch. While ordering tapas, or small plates, I incorrectly assumed that huevas were the same as huevos (eggs). When it was brought to the table, it was immediately apparent that it was not like any egg I had ever seen before, but I would bravely give it a try. After it flaked in my mouth in little pellets, I decided I had better ask the waiter what exactly it was that I was eating. He explained to the table, with a amused smirk on his face, that huevas was an ovary and that we had just consumed tons of baby fish eggs. It was the definition of "close, but no cigar!"

Lastly, to speak to Hayley's complaint about my blog that there weren't enough pictures, I have created a photo album online that I'll be adding to as I go:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The madre espanola

Meet Amanda. Amanda and I will be living together in the room you see pictured above for the next 6 months! This means that I have officially moved out of Hotel Becquer and into my homestay. I will try to get pictures of my new familia up soon, but descriptions will have to suffice for now. I'm afraid this may result in a less than riveting and longer than usual post, but it should set the stage for all my subsequent stories in the future.

I'm living in a neighborhood about 30 minutes walk from the center of the city, near Nervion in an apartment building on Avenida Alcade San Ferndandez. Our new madre (mother) is named Loli. She has 4 children all in their late 20's to 30's. One of her sons, Alberto, lives here with us as well and we met her son Dani and his wife when they came over for lunch today. Two days in, and we've met half the family! We're also going to get to meet her newest grand-daughter who will be born in February. 

Loli has been hosting 2 college students every semester for the last 10 years and has every single one of their photos still up in her living room and even Christmas cards from past students (a very good sign!). She informed us on the first day that they had all told her they loved her cooking and had taken home all of her recipes. My roommates back in Ann Arbor will be thankful for some new recipes to throw into the mix next year.

So far we have both been stuffed to the brim at each and every of the three meals a day our madre cooks for us. Our grammar professor explained that there were two things we needed to know about Spanish mothers: one, that cleanliness is truly next to godliness here and no mess would be tolerated and two, that they will never think you've had enough to eat. This is apparently compounded by the cultural norm of saying no thank you when you are initially offered food and having to wait until the other person insists you have some before it is polite to eat more! He says that as a Spanish students who went to study in England, he nearly starved the first week after everyone took him at his word when he declined food initially! At any rate, our professor seemed pretty spot on in his description so far.

We have also been bumbling along trying not to inadvertently break house rules. So far we've been fussed at for soaking the bath mat, keeping our suitcases under our beds so that she could not properly sweep, waking her up by closing the door too loudly in the middle of the night, and coming home late for lunch! Lots to learn.

To try to keep this short, I will end with a short list of my top accomplishments of the past few days:
  1. Researching and buying a phone and calling plan in Spanish
  2. Finding my way home after this trip to the phone store...
  3. Acclimating myself to the Spanish time-line napping from 3-5, eating dinner at 10, and going out with friends at midnight and not returning home until 4 in the morning!
And now Amanda and I will venture out of the house for the first time today (at 5:00 in the evening...) to attempt our latest feat of great bravery and talent: acquiring a city bike pass!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The wet rat

One of the things that was not included in my two fifty pound bags of luggage was an umbrella. Or rainboots of any variety. This isn't quite as stupid as it sounds because, apparently, it never rains in Sevilla, or at least this is what all the Sevillanos have been telling me.

I passed the whole first day of my Seminario Cultural classes looking like a pale wet rat with freezing feet. Even my classes about Franco and actually useful and comprehensive grammar weren't quite enough to take my mind of my sopping wet condition. I cursed my poor planning while I took notes on the Spanish history of the last century and learned about Franco's 7 essential laws. I inconspicuously rubbed my feet together to warm them while listening as my conversation teacher expanded on the difference between "club" and "discoteca" (hint, one involves prostitutes, the other all-night dancing and chicos guapos). In my last class of the day on grammar, I wondered whether wrapping my toes in toilet paper would keep me warmer or just create a soppy mess in my shoe. I decided that it would probably be more hassle than it was worth.

However, by the time the rain let up a little for my walk back to the hotel after classes, there were wounded and dying umbrellas laying in puddles on the sidewalk everywhere I looked. It seems that any umbrella I would have packed would not have stood up to the torrential winds. As Gayle has taken to saying, "cualquier" (an incorrect usage of the literal translation of 'whatever'), at least it's not snow!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The mailing address

Just a quick note about my mailing address for the semester:

I have yet to get my housing assignment, but it looks like it will be easier to recieve mail at the program center instead of the home-stay.

Sooo, send me mail, I promise I'll write back :)

Haley Reimer
Universidades Michigan-Cornell-Pennsylvannia
Paseo Delicias, 3, 2º der.
Sevilla 41500 España

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The moral of the story

I feel obligated to finish writing about the traveling portion of my trip, if only to get it all down for future reference and warning to myself against trying to travel with a backpack, a purse, and 2 fifty pound roller bags.

As I went to bed last night, I could only be thankful that the bed I was sleeping in with my 24+-hours-of-traveling-grime-covered clothing on was not going to be mine for longer than one night and that Chantel and Lyndsay had graciously volunteered to go back to the airport at midnight to collect all 9 missing bags. As it would have been too easy for them just get there and pick the bags up, that flight was delayed and Chantel and Lyndsay got to wait another hour or so in an empty baggage claim before hauling all 450 lbs of luggage back. So at 2:30 am, we all dragged ourselves out of bed and clank clank clanked all of our bags up three flights of narrow hostel stairs and barely had enough floor space to store all of them in our room.

Fast forward to 7:30 am when it seemed that a repeat button was hit and we started clank clank clanking the bags down the stairs to attempt to squeeze them all into 2 taxis. Then we squeezed them into the elevators at the train station and finally made it onto the train to Sevilla. Fortunately we're all such cute girls that there were tons of strapping young men practically fighting to help us lift each of the now 12 fifty lb bags into the overhead compartment... (ha ha. not).

To solidify the point about don't travel with this much luggage (EVER, no matter how much you think you need whatever you have in that bag), we finally arrived at Sevilla and had a showdown with the taxi drivers. Much to our chagrin, we lost the showdown and ended up having to take a separate cab each because, apparently, luggage can only be stored in the trunk. Mean taxi drivers: 1, Tired Americana chicas: 0.

Have I convinced you? Mike, Amelia and Dickson (the only people that my tired brain is remembering who are still coming abroad soon) have you learned my lesson?

But after a hot shower and a nap I was able to fully appreciate that I'M IN SEVILLA! Though it's a little cold and rainy right now, it is beautiful. The streets are lined in blossoming orange trees and another breathtaking building is around every corner. I've met up with the 35 other students from Cornell and UPenn in the program tonight over dinner and will begin orientation tomorrow. This is all slowly but surely becoming real to me, and I can't wait for what's next.

OH- and a few other of my travel companions have joined the blogosphere if you're looking for a few other perspectives:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The terminal

This post will feature two musical performances that help sum up the last roughly 48 hours of my trip. Firstly, Leaving on A Jet Plane (you can listen to it as you continue reading, no need to watch it, don't worry!). The second, an amateur performance of The Terminal Song, covers a young man's adventure in the airport that lost both his bags and his wife and is consequently stuck in terminal 5 for 15 hours. But more on that later.

In my book, there is nothing better than an international flight. While others may dread a long trip in airplane, I look forward to all that comes with the jumbo jets and an international flight. I catch up on bad movies that have come out over the last couple of months, get some concentrated reading in, and generally enjoy recycled air in a cozy, dark cabin for 8 hours. Other perks include the hot face towel before meals and excellent people watching.

However, the obvious flipside of all the excitement of going on such a trip is saying goodbye everyone at home. But, despite this, everyone held up well at the airport as Mom said she had heard it was very poor form to cry at the airport so would do her best to avoid it. I'm just hoping that I don't return home to find that Mom has bought another puppy to replace me.

But no travel story would be complete without lost baggage. So as not to rob us of any memory-forming experiences, the airline managed to lose a total of 9 bags and 1 Gayle. As of now, (7 hours after landing in Madrid), we know the location of all of our missing items and will be collecting them in a series of trips from the hostel back to the airport. To find out that our bags would be arriving at midnight tonight and that Gayle had been delayed and would be arriving at 8:00 tonight required:
  • 4 trips to the Lufthansa ticket desk
  • 3 trips back and forth from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2
  • 3 trips to the lost baggage claims desk
  • 3 illegal entrances into prohibited areas to look for Gayle
  • 2 trips to the SpanAir ticket desk
  • 1 trip to the airport information desk
In summary, an approximate total of 5940 miles walked back and forth over 6 hours. Since then, we've checked into our hostel in downtown Madrid and, after returning to the airport for our bags at midnight, we will be ready to crash and get some sleep before finishing the final leg of our trip to Sevilla tomorrow morning!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The basics

The basics:
Who: Me!
What: A semester studying abroad
When: January 8th- June 28th, 2010
Where: Sevilla, Spain
Why: Academics! I promise.

Like any good college student of this generation, I start my first post with a link to wikipedia to give you some background information on the area in which I will be living and studying for the next six months:

Now that you know a little more about the area, let me state that this is just a tester post to pique your interest. However, I hope that this blog helps me keep in touch with a little more ease while I'm in Sevilla. I will try to update often and record the highlights of my travels for both my and your sake. Who knows, maybe it will launch my career as a travel blogger and then I can globe trot at will!

I am a day and a half out from departure. As you could guess, I'm not completely packed yet, my room is a disaster area and my mother is starting to get a little frantic and worried that I won't have everything done in time. Fortunately, I have an excellent track record in these sorts of situations. You'll have to tune in later to see if I accomplish it all in time...