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 :)