Friday, June 11, 2010

The last one, no pasa nada

We all have those points in our life where we grow up. I remember in 5th grade when I told my mother that I needed to start wearing a bra, despite the fact you couldn’t tell my front from my back.

I remember my first college class and how I thought I was so old, sitting there and taking studious notes.

And I remember getting on the plane to come to Spain thinking, “I’m so grown up. I’m going to Europe by myself!”

But here I am, five hours away from a taxi that will come and pick me up to take me to the airport, bring me to my departure from this place that has been my home for six months.

I am leaving a city that has driven me insane for six months. A city where people looked at me as though I was an outsider (which I was), a city where men whistled and shouted, “GUAPA” (cutie) at me, a city where the rain poured for three months.

And a city that has brought me to tears more times in the past week than I can count.

I love this place, and not despite the aforementioned items, but rather because of them.

I am in love with this city that allowed me to realize how different I am, and grow into my own skin a little more every day. I am in love with this city, where I’ve learned to shout boldly at old men, leaving behind any passivity my parents believe I have. I am in love with this city where the rain pours and people dance in it and throw their umbrellas into trash cans and allow the rain to soak their perfectly primped hair.

It is a city that flies by the seat its pants. A city after my own heart. A city that runs the way I live.

Here, sometimes stores didn’t open after siesta. Sometimes the siesta lasted all day, and some days the store-owners didn’t take siestas. You never knew.

The quote Seville lives on day-to-day is: no pasa nada. Basically meaning, “it’s fine, no big deal, everything is alright.” I swear a meteor could have struck the center of the city and the Sevillans would still be saying, “Hombre, no pasaaa nadaaaaa.”

And I have lived with a woman that is traditionally and authentic old-school Spanish. A woman who spent her days cooking food for me and sharing her “adages” at dinner about how cold water will give me sore throats and exercising will make my veins turn into constricted balls.

She is a woman that at my age had a husband and two children. A woman that learned to drive a car during Franco’s tight reign, a time when women needed permission from their husbands to spend a night away from the house. A woman that dyes her hair a deep shade of purple, just because it complements her purple clothes well.

So yes, this is the point where you may expect that I share my wealth of knowledge about what I’ve learned this semester and everyone has an “ah-hah” moment.

But, if there’s one thing this city has taught me, it’s that you don’t learn in the moment. You live in the moment and life happens to you.

Then you learn.

So ask me six months, six years from now what I learned and maybe by then I can put it into words.

And if by then I still don’t know, perhaps I’m just going the Spanish route: taking my time, walking slowly, soaking in everything.

I’m growing up, I know that, and it’s a marathon that I’m doing at the pace of 100-yard dash. And so in five hours I will get on a plane with swollen eyes and a heart that’s thrashing against my ribs, knowing that I will revisit this place constantly in my memories, and whoever is unfortunate enough to sit next to me will probably offer me a tissue and ask if I’m okay.

And, in the typical Sevillano way, I’ll probably just respond: no pasa nada.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Passport to Paris (and Ireland)

I finished my exams last Monday and on Tuesday I headed to Paris with two friends, Haley and Gayle. In favor of saving money and having fun experiences in Europe (fun meaning, things I hope my children never do, but I find quite exciting at this point in my life) we decided to try couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing is a trend that is starting to take over travel in Europe. There is a networking site, similar to facebook or LinkedIn, where people list where they a.) have a couch they would allow travelers to sleep on for a few nights or b.) are travelers looking for a free couch to sleep on while traveling.

So we made an account and contacted a few people in Paris that had couches. After several "no's" we finally received a response offering us a spot on their couch. Rémy and Michael are cousins living in Paris together, they had couchsurfers before and were very excited to have more Americans so they could work on their English.

It was fine until we got to their apartment and realized that none of us had written down Michael's phone number, so while we were standing in front of their apartment door, we had no way to contact. In an effort to get ahold of Michael I began to scream "MICHELLLLLLE!" in the street, hoping they lived in one of the apartments that had an open window.

"What are you doing, Chantel?" Gayle asked me.

"Michelle is the French translation of Michael," I explained to Gayle. (Yes, I took a French class when I was eight)

False, the translation is Michael. We discovered this after we finally met Rémy and Michael which involved a Spanish missionary group, a random eight-year old girl and several frantic calls through the speaker box. (Long story)

But couchsurfing turned out to be a great experience. They were able to give us recommendations that only true Parisians would know about.

We only had three days in Paris but we tried our best to fit everything in but my three favorite things about Paris were:

1.) Museé de l'Orangerie: It only houses eight paintings, but they are the eight paintings that Monet painted of the waterlillies in his garden. Monet is my favorite painter and the museum made me drool. For me it was far more impressive than the Mona Lisa.

[One of Monet's massive painting of the water lillies]

2.) Angelina's: Angelina's is a little tea shop right outside of the gardens in Paris (the Tuileries). They are famous for their hot chocolate and teas. And myself, being a lover of sweets and relaxation, found it to be my nirvana.

3.) The Eiffel Tower @ Night: The last night in Paris Rémy, Michael, Gayle, Haley and I met up with some of their French friends for some wine under the Eiffel Tower. Surrounding the tower there are several gardens and every night young people gather to wait for the light show on the Eiffel. It was beautiful and a great way to end our trip to Paris.

The next stop on my "Yay-finals-are-over-and-I-have-to-go-back-to-America-soon" trip was Ireland.

We stayed near the Temple Bar area which is notorious for its nightlife. Our first night in Dublin we headed over to Temple Bar and fell in love with a traditional Irish bar/pub that had live music. My heart melted when I heard Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" and I knew I had found my haven for the rest of the night.

Dublin is a fantastic town for young travelers. There are people from all over and all sorts of characters, young and old. (Emphasis on the old characters)

Haley and Gayle continued their Eurotrip to London, but since I had already been there I flew back to Seville, but not before going on a hiking trip by myself for a day in Ireland.

I went to Glendalough last Monday by myself, excited to explore the Irish countryside. Glendalough is the site of the monastery founded by St. Kevin in the 500's and is also famous for being a thin place.

Thin places are, by Celtic tradition, places on Earth where the separation between Earth and Heaven is thinner than everywhere else. So I was glad to have some time alone to really enjoy this place.


It was quite the switch, going from Dublin's Temple Bar to Glendalough, but after jumping a few fences and climbing the side of a mountain, I found a lovely place to sit by myself. It was probably the first time in nearly six months that I had truly been alone with silence. For an hour I sat and watched the rain fall on one of the lakes. After a while, a giant boxer (dog, not Rocky Balboa) jumped out of the bushes and started to lick me.
For some strange reasons it was one of the first times that I've felt very ready to go home.

There is an old Finnish proverb that goes, "If you never leave, you can't ever return."

So for this, I'm thankful that I will be able to return to the US and that I will be able to leave Seville, so that at some point, I will be able to return to this place that has stolen my heart.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


(Okay, so I wrote this blog last week but didn't have time to upload it until today, so imagine yourself reading this a week ago....)

My travels continued last Tuesday when I packed my bags to fly to London.

It was, as all of my travels have been, eventful.

You see, the volcano (that cancelled the Paris trip and made the Greece trip possible) started to spew ash again last Monday. And somehow all the ash decided to descend upon southern Spain. Yes, it decided the Atlantic Ocean simply wouldn’t do, and keeping that ash inside of the volcano certainly wasn’t an option, so when the volcano decide to vomit some more, it chose to use Andalucia as its bucket.


This meant a 6-hour bus ride to the Madrid bus station, a 1:00am arrival at the airport, two cups of coffee followed by 4 hours of homework (I didn’t want to sleep alone in the airport), a 3-hour flight to London Stansted (the perk of cheap European travel: obscure airports), then a 6-hour bus ride to Brighton, England.

My friend Allison is studying at the University of Sussex in Brighton this semester, so my first stop was on the southern edge of the UK. We spent a day in Brighton sipping tea and doing "English-y things", meaning I spoke in a British accent. I enjoyed the freedom of grocery shopping for myself (cheesecake!) and I must admit it was rather shocking to be in a place where everything is written in English.

On Thursday we took the train to London and did a little site seeing before heading off to dinner and a show.

I had a lovely go at musical theatre when I was four, in the North Branch production of Oliver. The director initially said I was far too young to be in the show, considering he was only accepting children ages seven and up to play the all boy cast of the orphans. But my father played Fagan and I had a bowl cut and could actually sing on pitch...needless to say, I had my debut as the littlest orphan.

So I could hardly control my excitement as we headed to see Billy Elliot. My friend Jackie, who’s also studying in England, met us at the show and we all experienced three phenomenal hours of musical theatre.

The show was beyond anything I expected. Everything from the cast to the set to the costumes was perfect, and the 12-year old that played Billy put my orphan musical theatre days to shame. Since arriving back in Spain, I haven’t stopped listening to the soundtrack and have come very close to physically injuring myself while attempting pirouettes around the house.

Friday was a day full of site-seeing. Allison and I did a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and somehow managed to “see” everything “important” in London. I say “see” because we really did just see everything. Since we only had a day, I knew I’d really only get a taste of the city (which makes for a perfect excuse to return). We did make it to an evening church service at Westminster Abbey and later that night bought tickets to see Chicago. Chicago was good, but there were no 12-year old ballerinas or on stage ensembles that included miners, police officers and the grim reaper.

Saturday, Allison and I took the bus to Oxford, England where Jackie is studying. The city is full of history, which Jackie delved into during our 5-hour walking tour. We did get to see the lamppost that inspired C.S. Lewis to write The Chronicles of Narnia though.

And, if you want another interesting fact about Oxford, here’s one: During the reign of some English king, the royal family decided that no one could have deer. Oxford University, which has it’s own field for deer procreation and the hunting season (nothing like making the playing field fair, right?), was enraged. So it did what any normal community would. They fed the deer only cabbage. Eventually the deer were so much cabbage that they were, statistically by weight, more cabbage than they were deer. Thus, they were classified as cabbage, and cabbage was not black listed.

Sunday was another day of travel as I headed back to Spain. And as I landed in Spain I had a very sad realization: I have less than 2 ½ weeks left in Seville. On June 1 I leave for three weeks of Euro tripping, and after that I head back stateside.

This time should be a rather eclectic mix of emotions and memories. Before I leave from Seville on June 1st, I must write three essays, complete 2 exams and write a journal for my creative writing class. I also turn 21 on Saturday and have a birthday party with my family here along with a few visits from friends.

It’s a very, very strange place to be right now. I’m finally at a point where seeing English signs is foreign to me, my dream sequences are in Spanish and my relationship with Chencha (my host mother) is great. And while I do miss my family and friends like crazy, I don’t want to leave.

So, for these two weeks I intend on doing all I can to soak up the last of this Sevillan sun. My friend Haley and I will be starting (and completing) the “99 Thing you MUST do in Sevilla” list we found online and I know there will be moments when I kick myself for not having done it sooner.

I hate bucket lists, but the time has come, and I have my Sevillan list written.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Allowing the rain to pass...

So the rain finally left Sevilla.

Thank the good Lord.

But it was replaced with stifling heat and the blinding sun.

Thank you Helios.

I don’t mind the sun or the heat, but it does make it difficult to focus in class when you’re sitting in a pool of sweat distracted by the lingering scent of body odor. In the United States you wouldn’t have to worry about the body-odor problem thanks to deodorant (well, post sixth grade when both genders actually started using it) but here they don’t believe in deodorant.

Everyone told me that Seville would get hot. I just didn’t realize it would get this hot.

Honestly, in the past two months I’ve experienced polar opposites on the climate graph. It’s like the Amazon Rainforest and the Sahara Desert got together, fell in love, had a child and named it Seville.

I’m a Minnesota/Michigan girl. I like the heat when it’s accompanied by a lake, pool or cookout. Not when I’m walking to my 9am creative writing class.

In my contemporary design class (please don’t ask me about the subject matter of this class, because I’m still not entirely sure) my professor walks in, shuts the windows and closes the blinds so that we can better view his slideshows. No one else seems to mind, everyone in Seville is accustomed to the drastic heat, the suffocating feeling of your throat closing.

But I’m still getting used to it. It’s been a gradual change, my adjustment in becoming more like the Sevillanos.

Unfortunately, one thing I can’t help is that with the blinding sun comes the lightening of the hair. Already, my blonde hair stuck out like a neon sign that screamed “NOT FROM SEVILLE!” but now that neon sign is turning into a billboard above my head.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if said billboard provided a bit of shade every now and then…

But, I would take the Sevillan heat over anything in Michigan right now.

Yes, all my Wolverine classmates have finished exams and moved home, started relaxing or working while I still have 4 more weeks of class. But I can’t imagine not being in Sevilla right now.

There have been points during the semester when I’ve thought about what this semester would have looked like had I stayed in Ann Arbor. I would have taken classes, written at the paper, been involved with other organizations on campus and enjoyed life in Ann Arbor.

It would have been a fun semester, I’m sure of it.

But, instead I’ve been able to see a part of the world in a way that few people ever see any part of the world other than America — I’ve lived here. I’ve been a part of a culture rather than a visitor. And I’ve experienced the lifestyle of a Sevillana rather than just letting it all pass by freely.

This, I am thankful for.

I’m thankful for the daily struggles of trying to learn a new language, trying to understand a different culture and learning more about the people around. All of which have helped me learn about myself.

I always thought, “I need to get out of the Midwest. I’m so sheltered.”

Now I think: I don’t need to get out of the Midwest, I just need to get out of that frame of mind. Maybe I’ll live in China, maybe I’ll raise my kids in Ireland. But maybe I’ll grow old in Minnesota, which I would be perfectly happy with, as long as I do so with the knowledge that there is more to life that what we see out of our front door and there's more to experience that what we watch on the morning news.

When my sisters and I were born, my father gave us each life philosophies. Mine was, and is, “May she discover the wisdom that comes with happiness, and the happiness that comes with wisdom.”

Wisdom isn’t just smarts; it’s experience, sound judgment and clear vision, which this experience has given me.

Yes, the photos are beautiful and the stories are nice, but no matter how much I write or explain, I will never be able to translate this experience into something forthright. Because these kinds of experiences in life aren’t straightforward or simple, they’re difficult. They bring wisdom and happiness, disappointment and sometimes tears, elation and confusion.

And for that, I will take the rain, heat and anything else Sevilla wants to throw at me.

Friday, April 30, 2010


One of my favorite things about Seville is the temporal difference I feel everyday. Not only between the American ideals of time and the European, but also between old and new.

I walk down the street, seeing 21st century cars, wardrobe, machinery to the backdrop of a mixture of architecture formed over the past 2,000 years by the Romans, Moors, Catholics and most recently Franco.

The chasm between old and new is sometimes shocking and I feel sad whenever I see a piece of graffiti art drying on walls that are older than anything that exists in my home country.

But the third part of my spring break was just that: young art performing on a stage much older than itself.

Friends, I would like to introduce you to La Feria de Abril (April’s Fair) in Seville.

It started in 1847 as a livestock exchange, but let’s get serious, whenever the Sevillanos even sense an opportunity to party, they grab on like there’s no tomorrow. So in no time, La Feria became a cultural phenomenon full of flamenco dresses, drinking, dancing and tradition.

And this year was no exception.

On Saturday, Lyndsay and I (clad in flamenco dresses thanks to Chencha) walked three blocks to the Feria and sauntered past the casetas and dodged the horse drawn carriages.

Getting dressed up was kind of like getting ready for homecoming in high school. Chencha did our hair and we put on lots of make up. When I put my dress on Chencha grabbed my butt and said it looked nice but then tried to explain to me that I am, how shall I say this, not well endowed up top.

And by tried, I mean she looked at me and told me I'd need to stuff the dress with more than oranges if I wanted it to fit my chest. So needless to say, for the first time in my life, I wore enough coverage to fit a woman that just had triplets. So if you're looking at this picture and thinking, "wow, Chantel has changed a lot since she went to Spain." You're wrong, it's all fake.

[Dressed like Sevillanos with friends, Bryan and Matt]

Casetas are little tents that groups of families buy. They exists as their social gathering point for the week. They hire bartenders and have their caseta catered. In the background the hired music plays flamenco as the women, also dressed in flamenco dresses, dance the traditional Feria dances, the Sevillanos.

However, these casetas are very elite — you must know someone on “the list” in order to bypass the security guard. But there are also public casetas (mainly politic parties) that anyone can go to.

On the outskirts of the hundreds of casetas is the fair, which is not unlike most county fairs in the US. Children flock here when the dancing gets boring and it’s not uncommon for them to spend several euro on carnival rides, games and treats.

(Also, let’s be clear here, I’m only 20, I still qualify as a child…)

[Riding a roller coaster in full flamenco get up with Matt, Bryan and Lyndsay]

On the final day of The Feria, Lyndsay and I stopped by to enjoy buñuelos (a traditional feria treat) and to watch the fireworks. It seemed like a good ending to my whirlwind of a spring break — I was a part of the temporal divide of Sevilla, I had finally been mistaken for a Sevillano and I had made a fool of myself dancing in casetas with old men.

So, if you ever come to Spain and have questions about the Madrid airport, the Feria, or how to make a flamenco dress fit....send them my way.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

ACT TWO: My big fat Greek vacation

A continuation...

We got to Athens on Saturday around 6pm without a map, without a hostel, without an idea of how to get to the city center and without a lick of Greek knowledge.

Napoleon once said, “Over preparation is the foe of inspiration.”

Over preparation, preparation, baseline knowledge or know-how….toe-may-toe, toe-maw-toe.

We asked for a bit of help from a few bilinguals then boarded the train to the city and before we knew it we were in the town square.

Next task: find a hostel.

We had the names and addresses of six hostels and finally found our way to the Athen’s International Youth Hostel. We put our stuff in our room, emailed our parents to let them know we were still alive and headed off to dinner.

We found a quaint little restaurant a few blocks from our hostel. The waitress spoke no English, Lyndsay and I spoke no Greek, but luckily we are well trained in the art form of charades and were able to get two good plates of food.

Our third plate was our biggest failure of the trip. As many of you know, I am afraid of fish and have been facing my fear here on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, I also hate seaweed and that was our third plate. No getting over that fear.

The next morning we awoke and started our hike towards The Acropolis. In one day we saw almost every big monument in Athens: The Parthenon, the Theaters of Herodes Atticus and Dionysus, Hadrian’s Library and Arch, Temple of Zeus, the National Gardens and several more.

[In Hadrian's Library, built 132 A.D.]

While the site seeing was nice I must admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Athens. Luckily, Lyndsay wasn’t either, so on Monday morning we boarded a ferry to the Island of Santorini.

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. But for the sake of space, let’s just say we set the alarm to the wrong time, couldn’t open our door and then experienced a high speed chase in a taxi with a man who spoke even less English than our waitress the night before.

But all's well that ends well and by 2pm on Monday afternoon Lyndsay and I stepped into the sun at the Port of Santorini.

Santorini is a small caldera in the Aegean Sea, meaning at one point in time it was a volcano, but it collapsed, so now is sort of resembles a crescent moon.

If you’ve seen photos of Grecian islands, you’ve probably seen Santorini. It’s hundreds of little white houses jetting out of the dark mountainsides into the perfect blue skies. The pathways are fine, stone paths that zig-zag in between the houses and restaurants leading down to old ports when tanned aged men fish with cane poles and large boats during the day and drink Ouzo at night.

The first night we were there Lyndsay and I sat out on the balcony of one of the restaurants eating brownies and ice cream, laughing about how ironic it was that we were sitting on top of an old volcano, not unlike the volcano in Iceland that forced our hands in coming to this place.

[Enjoying the Greek volcano much more than the one in Iceland]

For the next three days we were there Lyndsay and I rented ATV’s and explored the island. The island is small enough that we were able to make it from central Santorini (where we were staying, a small town, Fira) to the south side of the island in 25 minutes.

We tanned on the beach (read: burned), ate great Greek yogurt and Greek salads, traveled the island and spent time with two friends we met in Athens that also made the trek to Santorini.

Our last night on the island we went to the north side to watch the sunset in Oía. We were told by several people, that it was voted the best sunset in the world. Despite not having a source as to whom these “people” actually are, I agree with them. The colors were incredibly vibrant and we watched as the sun dropped behind a small island on the horizon.

There is something so peaceful about watching the sun set over water. I love the way the water reflects the sky and magnifies the colors. It was almost like the reds and oranges against the dark sky were in a contest with the white houses against the dark mountain, as to which could be more beautiful.

Thursday morning we woke up, assuming we would need to take the ferry back that afternoon in order to get to Athens in time for our flight the next morning.

Well, the ferry workers went on strike. Apparently, it happens quite often and honestly, after how the beginning of our trip went, this seemed like nothing.

So we ended up flying back to Athens later that night (a 45-minute plane ride vs. a 7-hour ferry ride), sleeping on the floor of the Athens airport, catching our flight back to Madrid on Friday morning and then taking a 7-hour bus from Madrid to Seville.

It was an exhausting trip home. I guess the best way to explain our big fat Greek trip was that it was an amazing sandwich on stressful bread.

But once we finally got off the bus in Seville, we could see the lights from the world famous Feria and our exhaustion turned into anticipation and excitement for the following day’s festivities.

[Cue lights in the distance as the stage fades to black]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring Break 2010: A Dramatic Monolgue presented in three acts

Most days I feel pretty prepared for life. I attribute a lot of that to my parents. For example, one of the things my parents truly prepared me for: roadtrips. After moving to Michigan when I was younger, we would make the mecca back to the homeland (Minnesota) at least twice a year. Sometimes it was 16 hours but recently we've made it in sub-12 hours. (The number of DQ Brazier signs acts in an inverse relationship with the time of travel. It's nearly impossible for the Jennings family to drive by three DQ billboards without someone ending up with a blizzard or chocolate malt.)

But year in and year out we've made the trip in our van. Sometimes we went through the UP, other times the southern route. One winter we made the trek without heating in the van. Ironically, the next summer the van overheated during rush hour traffic in downtown Chicago. Needless to say, I've been well trained in the fine art of sitting in a small area for a long period of time.

Thanks mom and dad.

But when spring break came around this year, I felt pretty prepared and figured I wouldn't need to bring out such skills. Lyndsay and I were only supposed to go to Paris to see one of my childhood eu pairs (Aisha), a mere 2 hours by plane. Key word: supposed....

But then a volcano exploded in Iceland, the cloud covered Europe with a black fog and tens of thousands of flights were cancelled...including ours.

Happy Spring Break 2010. Thus begins, my monolgue.

ACT ONE: The Travel

Early day: a volcano explodes in Iceland.

6:00pm - We get on a bus in Seville to go to Madrid completely oblivious. Good music, Andre Agassi's autobiography and 20 minutes of sleep later...

12:30am - We arrive in Madrid at the bus station.

12:30-1:15 am - Bus station > Airport via metro.

1:20 am - We settle into a corner of the airport. Lyndsay promptly falls asleep. I read for a bit then try to sleep. If you've ever spent the night at an aiport before, you know what I mean by TRIED. I laid down on a scarf, used my other scarf as a blanket, put my leather jacket over my head and as anti-theft for my luggage, I had no choice but to spoon with my rolly bag. As you can probably guess, it didn't go well. I slept 30 minutes and decided it would be more restful to sleep in the cage of a famished gorilla. Back to the book.

5:00am - Quick hot coco and OJ for breakfast before we go to check in for our 7:15am flight.

5:30am - Our flight is cancelled. We reschedule to 6:40am Saturday morning. Easyjet (our airline) gives us the name of a hotel to go to and we go to look for the shuttle stop.

6:30am - We realize we've been waiting in the wrong place the entire time. Upon our arrival at the correct shuttle stop, we board a shuttle in minutes.

6:50am - They don't have rooms. In fact, they don't even know why our airlines sent us to their hotel. But, they say in the most courteous way one can be at 6:50 in the morning, you may return to the airport on the 7:30 shuttle. And by may, they mean must.

Note: At some point in here I loose my cell phone in the hotel lobby. Icing on the cake. Still not sure what happened.

7:45am - Back at complaints desk. New hotel that WILL have rooms, they promise.

8:30am - We check into a hotel in Coslada, Spain. Haven't heard of it? Not surprised. Well that's because its the louse that lives on the hair growing out of the armpit of Spain. At this point, Lyndsay and I are beyond tired.

10am-1pm - SLEEP. FINALLY.

1:00pm - We wake up and call our friend Jenny who's studying in Madrid. We inform her that she WILL be spending the day with us, she WILL make us feel better about our situation and she WILL enjoy it.

We spent most of the rest of the day doing retail therapy and drinking coffee to fend off the delusions. Later that night I speak with both my mom and Aisha. Both confirm that the cloud has shut down the airport in Paris and that there is absolutely no way we will be flying there in the morning. But, my mom tells me, you must go check in so that they give you a refund.

1:00am - Bed time.

5:30am - Taxi to airport to recieve said refund.

5:45am - You're flight's cancelled. So we wait in line to talk to customer service. Fed up, I decide to wander the airport in search of the cheapest flight. It's like an Easter egg hunt for a stranded tourist. Lots of flights are out there, I think, I just need to search high and low for them. But at 6am few airline service desks are open, but I walk to the first one I see and talk to a woman in Spanish.

"What's the cheapest flight you have today?"
"Where do you want to go?" she asks.
"I really don't care."
Her head tilts, she is evidently confused/bothered by what she thinks may be a prank."When do you want to leave?"
" is the earliest flight?"
"And you don't care where you go?"
"I really want to go anywhere that isn't Madrid. I just need two seats on your next flight. Please tell me you have something leaving today."
"You can go to Tenas."
"Where's that?" I ask.

I tell Lyndsay of my luck.
"GREECE!" I nearly shout.
"Yeah, but where's Tenas?"
"I don't know but it's in Greece and Greece isn't in Spain and Tenas DEFINITELY isn't in the Madrid airport!"
She shrugs her shoulders and tells me that she's all in as long as I find out where this unknown destination is.

I return to the woman who still slightly thinks I'm joking. And after asking her where Tenas is, she now looks at me as though I'm both insane and stupid.

"It's one of the MOST important cities in Europe, in the world," she says, putting emphasis on world.

"Eurpeans," I think. "They put a rock in the middle of a city and call it famous just because it's old."

I look at the map. Atenas....Athens.

In Spanish, the preposition "a" means "to." So when she said we could go "a-a Tenas, Grecia" I just heard her stumble on the word "a."

2:00pm - We board our flight to Athens. And so that's how our trip started.

By the time we got to Greece you could carry groceries with the bags under my eyes but I guess that's what 9 hours of sleep in 64 does to you.

So to Greece we say yassas (hello). To Spain we say adios. And to Iceland we say, with the utmost respect, up yours.

But give it a few days and I have a feeling we'll be sending thank you cards and a fruit package to a little country up north that forced us to be spontaneous.

[Close Scene]

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow...

Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

Many days, I think this should be Spain’s national saying. Like God Bless America, Spain has: bare minimum still cuts it.

I was shocked when I learned there was no direct translation for procrastination, but who needs a word when it’s just the lifestyle?

It’s not a bad thing necessarily. I think siestas (mid afternoon naps) are healthy for the soul. And there’s a reason why people here smile more. I, for one, have never been opposed to believing the 24 hours of tomorrow seems like a more fitting time for something I don’t feel like doing now.

This past weekend I visited two friends, Lindsey and Mallory, who have been studying in Barcelona, Spain this semester.

One afternoon, Lindsey and I headed to the ex-castle/now art museum of Barcelona and the ’92 Olympic Stadiums. The castle sits at the top of hundreds of stairs, framed by mountains and beautiful landscaping. Through the center of the steps (also escalators, thank you minimum energy exertion), the whole way up the hill, are fountains. Fountain after fountain, none of which, working.

[One of the hideous, non-working fountain. Here it just looks like some kind of modern art.]

“They’re probably broken. I’m sure they’ll fix it tomorrow,” Lindsey said to me.

Yes. Tomorrow, tomorrow…it’s only a day away. But it was my last day in Barcelona so I would have to rest with the fact that I could imagine how the fountains would add to the aesthetic pleasure of the castle.

When we arrived at the top, there were hundreds of people sitting around. We learned that the fountains were not, in fact, broken. Rather, all of these people were waiting for the moment in which all the fountains on the castle’s grounds would be turned on for the rest of the summer.

Good timing, I guess.

So we waited and after less than 10 minutes, the bleak and moss filled pools became invisible beneath the spray of white water and rushing waterfalls.

We continued further up the hill to see a few of the Olympic stadiums. We wandered by the natatorium and went into the track stadium, where the official torch still stands. Enough, we decided, and headed back towards the metro stop, at the bottom of the hill, past the castle and the fountains.

As we came down one flight of stairs we heard it: the introductory music for The Circle of Life, from The Lion King.

Where is this coming from? And how can we be a part of it?

After living together last year at Michigan, we both knew we shared a profound love of Disney music.

And finally once we reached the bottom we saw that the large circular fountain, reaching a basketball court’s length in all directions was almost dancing along to the music.

The music rang out and the water shot up and out and in and through and in every direction I could see. Lindsey and I sang along in English, despite the words being in Catalan (a language spoke only in Barcelona). We stayed to watch the fountain dance through songs from Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Pocahontas and several others.

But besides the lovely musical medley, Lindsey, Mallory and I spent a beautiful weekend bumming around Barcelona enjoying great food, incredible gelato, the sun and a few Gaudi and Picasso exhibits.

I loved Barcelona so much I considered finding a later flight or maybe just missing my flight on purpose. I mean, there’s more time tomorrow to fly back, right?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Semana Santa in Seville

[El paso, GRAN PODER, courtesy of google]

Semana Santa in Seville in what you could call a big event. It sort of like the Oscars, Fourth of July and your grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary all rolled into one giant week of processions and services.

It falls the last week of Lent and lasts until Easter and celebrates the final, Earthly week of Jesus’ life.

But in Seville, it’s a spectacle. It dates from Medieval times, so it’s both a celebration of longevity and the life of Christ. Each day, pasos (think giant floats, only instead of pipe cleaners and balloons, it’s platinum and gold) pass through the streets, and in the middle of this glittery ordeal is an image of Jesus or Mary.

People come from all over the world to witness these floats, weighing several tons, (carried by packs of men) glide down the thin streets of the city. Proceeding and following the floats are the “penitentes”, “nazarenos” and “acolytes.” These are members of the brotherhoods around Seville. There are 57 brotherhoods, which carry 116 totals floats, numbering up to nearly 60,000 men bopping around the city this past week.

The floats are quite marvelous though. The big moment of the week is Thursday night/Friday morning. At around 10pm on Thursday night a few friends and I headed over to a neighborhood to grab some churros before the floats came by. Already, there were groups, three people deep, lining one of the streets.

“Which one are you waiting for?” we asked one old man.

“La Macarena, it should be here around 4:30 am.”

I used to have a basketball coach that said, "Early is on time, and on time is late." This man wasreally on time, heck, I may even venture to say he was early.

So we got our churros and headed one street over, where we would be able to see two other pasos. The famous “El Silencio” (The Silence) and “Gran Poder” (Great Power). We sat down on the curb at around 11:30 and waited until 2am. At 2am we could see the top of the candles from El Silencio and by 2:30 Gran Poder was walking right in front of us.

With most pasos a large band walks behind, but since Thursday night/Friday morning are the pasos that depict the crucifixion of Jesus, it’s only silence. Often times, in the back streets, an old man or woman will sing a saeta — a short flamenco song, but sung with such desolate melodies that it brings people to tears.

But for Gran Poder and El Silencio, it was just the pasos and the men walking in front and behind the paso. These men are dressed in traditional Semana Santa outfits (the KKK stole their uniform from the penitentes of Semana Santa) and carry life size crosses, candles or other relics.

But there was one moment of the week that remains very poignant for me.

Since the pasos are so heavy, they often have to stop and wait a few minutes for the men under the pasos to change positions or take a rest. During one of the rests of Gran Poder I made eye contact with the penitente standing the closest to me. He may have just been staring at me because I was blonde or because he was bored or who knows. But we held eye contact for a bit and then I looked down at his hands that were gripping the cross. And he had these old man hands but they were strong. And I thought of how this old man is walking through the streets (barefoot!) for 10 hours, but how he could still grip the cross with such force.

I have no idea how old he was, who he was or why he chose to walk in the procession but it was one of those moments where you share something with someone that you’ll never see again.

I won’t lie, I’m pretty happy that I didn’t have to fight the crowds this morning or run through group of penitentes to get to a café today. But it was one of those things that after the crowds are gone and the music has stopped, you realize the importance of what you were, inadvertently, a part of, even if you weren’t the one carrying the paso.

[I will be putting up a video of the festivities once I have enough time to sit and let one upload to the site, until Semana Santa in Seville to get an idea]

Saturday, April 3, 2010

And just like that...It's APRIL!

[Outside of Lagos, Portugal at the most southwest point of Portugal]

Luckily, there are a few things that hold true in the US in April, that aren’t true here.

1.) April showers bring May flowers.

Luckily, we had 2 months of showers in January and February, so the flowers are here now. And along with those flowers we have thousands of orange trees that line the streets. And while they’re bitter oranges on the trees (used for marmalades) that doesn’t stop them from making the air smell incredibly sweet every time you walk outside.

2.) April time at Michigan means exam time.

I’ve turned in one piece of homework at the University of Sevilla so far. I take three classes at the University and two at our program center. The two at the program center are run like American University classes, meaning readings and homework every class. But the European University courses are more lecture based with a large exam or project at the end. So far I’ve begun a project about journalism and one about Frank Lloyd Wright. And I mean begun in the way the Spanish use the word, meaning, I’ve considered thinking about it, but haven’t gotten to the actual thinking part yet.

3.) When the snow melts in Michigan in April it means one thing…time to fix the roads that the snow and ice ruined.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of construction here, but by April it’s about finished. And the construction here is very different: they don’t believe in taking precautionary safety measures. Sure, they might throw out a few orange cones or fences around a bulldozer or a chainsaw but the men that use the equipment don’t wear safety goggles, face masks, gloves or anything to protect their ears.

But what April really means for Spain is TWO WEEKS OF VACATION! The last part of March/the beginning of April is Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Sevilla and one of the last weeks is La Feria, meaning I have less than 12 days of class in April, because we get vacation time for both Semana Santa and Feria. So to take advantage of these breaks I will be doing some traveling.

Last weekend, six friends and I headed over to Lagos, Portugal (a 5 hour bus ride) to soak up some sun on the beach. We stayed in the old section of the city, which is surrounded by a giant wall. You can walk from one end to the other in less than 15 minutes. It was beautiful and the food was great. There was a farmer’s market (there are few things I love more than farmer's markets) on Saturday, so we all bought fresh fruits, vegetables and hummus for our lunches and dinners.

[Amanda and me, exploring the beaches in Lagos]

The city was quaint and everybody knows everybody. Literally, by the fifth day we were running in to people who knew who we were (the Americans) and people that we recognized from the day before.

But beyond that trip I also head to Barcelona next Wednesday and Paris the Thursday after. In Barcelona I’ll be staying with a few friends from Michigan and in Paris I’ll be spending a week with one of my childhood au pairs, Aisha!

Somewhere in there I’ll make it to class, write a bit about Frank Lloyd Wright and keep speakin’ my español.

And then, just like that, it’ll be May.

Friday, March 19, 2010

And the tides change...

Last November a group at the University of Michigan’s campus presented an overview of what the typical student that studies abroad will go through. Emotionally, they told us that it would be like a roller coaster. There would be days when we maybe didn’t want to get out of bed, when we would be more emotional than normal and days when we just really wanted to go back to America.

I didn’t believe them. It wouldn’t happen to me, I thought. I’m ready for this adventure.

And then once I got here, my parents asked me, “Do you miss America?”

“No,” I responded. Cold? Perhaps. Honest? Always.

Because the truth of the matter is, I don’t really miss America. I miss my family and my friends, but doing this feels so right. There is no other place I would rather be right now, than exactly where I am.

Well, until this afternoon at 5:45pm.

Because in that moment, when I realized I would not be able to watch the NCAA opening-round battle between Minnesota and Xavier I wanted nothing to do with this unpalatable country.

Yes, I considered crawling back into my bed. Yes, I was far too emotional when I realized that the local Irish pub would not be televising this significant sporting event. And yes, all I wanted in that heartbreaking moment was to be back in America, on a couch, watching my beloved Gophers.

March is my favorite month. I hate to say it, but I think my grades drop a bit during March Madness. I mean, when you have 65 teams battling for a national championship on the hardwood, with most games televised somewhere, how could they not slip?

Why Spain, must you torture me with all your fútbol fandom? Why Spain, does everyone here care about sports like bullfighting, which is just stabbing a bull in the back with pointy sticks, when there’s that artistically perfect game I like to call baloncesto (Spanish translation, basketball)? Why Spain, can’t you appreciate the beauty of a 16-seed team valiantly taking on a national powerhouse?

And so, I sat at my computer and watched the game tracker. I know I’m being dramatic, I know I’m overreacting, you may say it’s JUST basketball, but hey, aren’t I entitled to my emotional rollercoaster? And if it’s because my March Madness has become my March Sadness, who are you to judge?

I knew I should’ve studied abroad in the fall.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cotton headed ninny muggins...

I love a pop-culture comparison just as much as the next person. So, in an effort to explain to you all what this experience has been, I will put it in terms I hope you can all appreciate.

I hope you’ve seen the Christmas blockbuster Elf.

I borrowed the synopsis of Elf from and have inserted the changes I deem appropriate.

One Christmas Eve , On May 22, a long time ago, a small baby at a orphanage hospital was accidentally carried back to Santa’s workshop The Jennings’ home in the North Pole (East Central Minnesota, close enough). Though she was quickly taken under the wing of a surrogate father and mother and raised to be an elf American, it becomes clear that Buddy Chantel will never truly fit into the elf American world. What she needs is to find his real family explore Europe, specifically Andalucia. This holiday season winter semester, Buddy Chantel decides to find her true place in the world and sets off for New York City Seville, Spain to track down her roots hone her Spanish speaking skills, immerse herself in another culture and woo a Spanish boyfriend (only slightly kidding about that last one.) Although Buddy Chantel experiences a world she’s never knew existed only read about, she quickly learns that life in the big city is not all ice skating flamenco dancing and sugarplums sangria. Chantel seeks out her his real father , host mother, Chencha, a workaholic publisher of children’s an eccentric 65-year old woman that loves to wear purple and make dirty jokes at the dinner table.

Okay, so from there things change a bit, considering I don’t save Christmas, or at least, I haven’t done so yet.

But I really did kind of feel like Buddy the Elf when I got here. I was just sort of thrown into this environment where everything was completely new and different. And while I’m not wearing green spandex and a pointy hat, I still stick out.

But what has been even scarier than how strange and out of place I felt nearly two and a half months ago, is how comfortable I feel today.

Life here is finally normal. I’m used to my new bedroom and the garlic toast in the mornings. Listening to lecture and taking notes in Spanish is nothing new. And finally, I can handle when people stare at me and I even have a few PG-13 comebacks for when I’m feeling really courageous.

In fact, some of my American habits are starting to wear off. For example, I really have to think about the difference between they’re, their and there. And the other day I spent ten minutes trying to spell the word across, because I was too stubborn to consult a dictionary.

They say it takes six weeks for something to become a habit. Well, life here is both habitual and amazing. Because no matter how normal life here is for me, I still have those, “Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore” moments.

And in those moments I think how crazy it is that I really
do live here. But I’ve taken everything in stride and even in those rare moments when I’ve wanted to pack my bags and head to the airport or find a row boat and take matters into my own hands, I smile because this is a tremendous experience and it’s all for the better that life isn’t always ice skating and sugar plums.

As Buddy would say, in those moments I smile and carry on because, “I just like to smile. Smiling is my favorite.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Fair Lady, not so fair....

I love musicals.

So when packing for my six month long trip to Spain, I took some advice from My Fair Lady.

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

So then the deductive reasoning kicked in: Seville, where I live, is not a plain, therefore the rain probably won’t fall there.


It has been raining here like you wouldn’t believe. It’s the kind of rain that kills umbrellas and soaks you through until your bones beg for mercy. It’s the kind of rain that made me wish I had a triple layer, steel toed boot, rain suit onesie just to walk to class.

It the kind of rain that makes me miss the snow. Yes, it’s that bad.

You see, there were two things that I overlooked in this phrase made popular by Audrey Hepburn.

1.) Key word: MAINLY. Mainly can mean a lot of things. According to Webster’s Dictionary it means: for the most part. Okay, so it’s not exclusive. It stays mainly in the plain, but it falls elsewhere as well. Elsewhere, meaning Seville. As well, meaning constantly.

2.) And I may have slightly overlooked the necessity for rhyming and musical resonance. Perhaps the only reason this saying exists is because Spain, main and plain all rhyme. In fact, I will go as far to say that there is no scientific backing of this saying and that it’s sole purpose was to be written as a musical line for the sonorous quality.

So, perhaps I should not have taken life advice from a musical. I mean, how seriously can I take people that break out in song and dance in unison while using jazz hands and the box step?

But for argument’s sake, I have a new line to add to My Fair Lady.

The rain in Spain is insane, it will make you complain, your socks and shoes will retain, the contents of the city’s water main.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The STUDY part of study abroad

Just west of the diag at the University of Michigan sits one of the most complicated buildings on campus. It houses all the English classes and discussions in addition to a few other smaller lectures.

The building is confusing because it’s actually four. One side is Angell Hall, one side is Mason, one side is Haven and the last side is Tisch. But a few of the classrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors of Mason are actually Haven Hall and some of the offices that appear to be in Angell Hall are actually Tisch offices.

You can see how it could be a little disconcerting.

But this building doesn’t even hold a candle to “La Fabrica” on the University of Seville’s campus, where two of my classes are held.

La Fabrica is a transformed Tobacco Factory, where the drama for the opera Carmen unfolded.

The building is beautiful with high ceilings and courtyards strewn throughout where students hang out between classes.

But today I really just wanted to set fire to the thing and start from ground zero with it.

For me to say the building is completely unorganized is an understatement. In fact, this is how I believe the builders decided to rework a completely lovely building into a labyrinth of disarray.

“We simply can’t put Room 7 between 6 and 8. Six and 8 look so good next to each other, 7 looks more like a 1.” — “Yes, that’s what I was thinking. Seven should go by classrooms 1 and 11.” — “Good plan, and while we’re at it, let’s create a secret stairwell that has half a floor on it where we can stash two more classrooms.” — “Right and which rooms haven’t we used yet? Alright those will be 2 and 8. And I've never liked the number 3, let's not make a classroom #3”

With a map in hand I still had to ask multiple professors and a secretary for directions to my classes. And even though I can only describe La Fabrica as pandamonium, I have enjoyed my classes.

I settled into two art lectures, two writing classes and a journalism lecture.

My journalism lecture is at a building that’s a twenty-minute bus ride from campus to a building where foreigners normally don’t venture. And after a haphazard journey there the first day (think multiple busses, an angry taxi driver and an inundation that makes me think Noah should be coming around any time soon) I considered never returning.

The classes at the Journalism building have been interesting just because University courses here function completely differently than they do in the US.

There is no grad school here. At age 17, with high school diploma in hand, you decide what you want to be, and from day one of University, you study only that. Grad school doesn’t exist here. If you want to be a doctor, you study medicine for seven years and upon graduation you are qualified to cut people open or prescribe medicines.

But because of this specialization, you get to know your classmates very well considering you study with only these students for years.

So walking into my first journalism class was more like walking into my first day of high school. The cliques have already been established, and not matter how hard I try, I stick out like a sore thumb. But the lecture is pleasant and I already spoke to a few students without having to retreat back to my doe eyed, “Lo siento. No entiendo mucho” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand a lot).

But even when I try to camouflage myself, others always seem to point me out.

Today, one of my professors, in the middle of an art lecture stopped and looked at me and a friend. I quickly looked down at my paper, hoping that by averting eye contact, the seemingly inevitable would actually not happen. I quickly grabbed my pen and began writing gibberish and hoping that this professor would take my hint and not bother my feverish writing spasm.

“¿Sois extranjeros?” (Are you foreigners?) he asked, interrupting his gripping debate over design versus art. Everyone’s eyes were upon us. My heart sank and the increase of blood rushing to my face increased my temperature by at least ten degrees.

“Si.” Busted.

But even with feeling out of place at times and in over my head fairly often, I really have enjoyed my first week of classes.

The best part of this experience is that even when I walk out of my classroom and have finished learning about the differences between art and design or finished being embarrassed by my professor in front of all of my peers, I get to walk out into an environment that is providing me with more of an education than a classroom ever could.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The good, the bad and the blend

(One of Lindsey's photos she took during her visit)

There is nothing I love more in life than good food, fine conversation and great friends. And there is nothing I hate more than guided walking tours, fish and mixed foods.

And I have to say that Spain, thus far, has been a blend of both categories.

The prevalence of the guided walking tours on our various city excursions sometimes makes me feel like an Asian tourist group, but at the end of the day, I can’t deny the benefit. It is helpful to have someone inform me of the various histories of the ancient structures and from time to time something really resonates with me.

When I’m at Michigan I always feel like something big is going on around me. But when I’m here, it’s hard to forget that something big was happening here way before America, as we know it, existed.

It’s hard for my brain to grasp the fact that my shoes walk across the floor that was walked upon by Diego Velazquez or that I skip/dance/walk/trip down a cobblestone street that Christopher Columbus once hiked down.

But it has been my quiet explorations down these same cobblestone streets that have led me to some great conversations with food and friends.

My friend Lindsey Etterbeek, who is studying in Barcelona this semester, visited me this past week in Seville. Both luckily and unluckily, it rained a lot while she was here.

It was unlucky because she is a great photographer and we really only had a day and a half to walk around the city. But in that day and a half we were able to venture to parts of the city I have yet to see; we found a beautiful fresh foods market, walked through several of the city’s parks and found our way to the Plaza de Espana, where part of Star Wars was filmed.

It was lucky, because it meant that we spent a lot of time inside coffee shops and restaurants and just enjoyed the company and conversation. She is one of the few people I know that loves ice cream as much as I do and with said ice cream we shared hours upon hours of stories and laughter.

But it was a lovely few days of dining out, which I haven’t done much of here just because our house mom provides us with three meals a day.

Which brings me to my two other hates: fish and mixed foods.

I can’t tell you why I don’t like mixing my foods. I can’t eat a burrito — it’s too many food items in a single place. And I really don’t like mixing four separate types of meat and putting them on a piece of bread, and then eating it.

My philosophy is: if the food looks on your plate, as it does in your stomach … you shouldn’t eat it.

But Chencha loves mixing foods. So I’m trying to learn. Everything she has put in front of me, I’ve tried. Sometimes with a grimace on my face (and a strong sense in my stomach that what I’m doing is both repulsive and wrong) but I’ve tried it.

And if being able to explore this city means eating whole fish, I would say it’s worth it.

I suppose it’s something my father would call a life lesson and learning moment.

“You have to take the good with the bad.”

But really dad, you haven’t tried the raw squid here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Spain, the land of fashionable toddlers and tourists

I was walking to a coffee shop with friends the other day when a large tourist group came around the corner of a fountain. We laughed as we tried to guess where they were from before they got close enough to where we could hear what language they were speaking. “British,” I said. “No, I’d say French,” another friend said. “Definitely German,” came a third voice. And finally we heard the tour guide speak Italian.

It’s one conclusion I’ve come to this semester: all old people, that have enough money to take guided tours through Europe, look the EXACT same. They dress the same, use the same bags and accessories, interact the same with their spouses the same and have this air about them that just says, “I’m a old person with enough money to travel Europe.”

It’s just funny because this is not true of any other age group in Europe.

My goal here, this semester is for someone to think I’m NOT American. The best compliment I’ve gotten this far is: oh, I thought you were from Germany. There is this status of UGG-boot wearing, BBM-ing (Blackberry messaging, like texting), Northface black fleece that just screams American, and I’ve tried as hard as I can to steer clear of this.

So, sometimes I am mistaken for a Brit or German. My roommate Lyndsay, is commonly taken for an Italian. And the joy this brings us is both is incredibly dumb, but at the same time, very gratifying.

Most times this is just based on dress, and possibly our lack of Spanish accents. For the most part young adults act the same here as they do in the US.

But my favorite American/European difference is the baby to toddler age group. Often times I feel like the children here are just an extension of a rich mother’s fashion accessory. The babies ride in vintage, bassinet strollers that can run up to $1000 while pushed by their stiletto heal wearing mother down cobblestone streets.

Once the children are able to walk, they too inherit an Upper East Side-like style. My favorite child thus far has been a very beautiful (every child here is beautiful) little girl walking down the street in shiny black boots, dark grey tights, a pink tank top and a black high waist-ed skirt.

Toddlers in the US don’t even have waists, let alone skirts that accentuate the waist.

It’s bad enough when I look at all the teenagers here and think, “Oh, I wish I could pull that off, but it’d never look good on me.” But that day I realized, yes, the toddlers here even have more fashion sense than I do.

Sometimes I feel underdressed in our apartment when I’m wearing basketball shorts and a sweatshirt. My house mom here has made remarks as to staying skinny and keeping my skin clear, over dinner.

It’s just common for people here to take appearance very seriously, and that’s taken a little bit of getting used to.

But until I get fully used to it I’m sure I’ll get a few more appearance tips from Chencha.

And some toddlers.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spandex, Spandex, Spandex

Classes at the University don’t start until February 15th and I was a little disappointed in how few Spaniards I knew (Official count = 2. Chencha and her 45 year old son, Juan).

I started to think about how I could get out and about in a place that won’t be jam packed with Americans.

So I joined a gym.

There happens to be a gym right across the street from our apartment complex and despite it’s pretty bad rankings on the google search website, the first comment said, “Run by two Sevillans…,” so I was sold.

My first day was Wednesday.

Well, wait. Back up. What I forgot to tell you is that ever since our first day here, Lyndsay and I have been seeing runners (all men) in spandex. Every runner from the 12-year old to the grandpa run in tight spandex. And I honestly can’t tell you which is more disturbing and awkward.

So flashback to Wednesday and Rafa, gym owner, clad in black spandex with red racing stripes down the sides, takes my money and lets me into the gym.

I walk in and begin to run on the treadmill and with the looks I got you would have thought I sprouted a third eye or was running without legs.

I was one of four women in the complex, the only woman under sixty. To add to that, all the women wore spandex as well. In fact, the only person I could see wearing running shorts similar to mine was the Cheech Marin-looking grandpa in the corner.

I guess women just don’t workout here. And not only am I a woman, I am a woman whose skin (in a country of tanned Mediterranean folk) is as dark as Casper’s was (Read: transparent).

Needless to say, my time at the gym has proved interesting in the least. Two people have introduced themselves to me, so I guess that’s progress. And every day I come home having an interesting story to tell. I attended a cardio class, understood nothing and managed not to laugh at the woman screaming Spanish phrases in the front of the room.

But our cultural class and grammar intensive end in a week and then we begin our classes at the center, where I’ll be taking a creative writing class with a few other American students at the program center. And once the 15th rolls around I’ll be taking my Spanish skills to the University to learn about journalism (who’d have thought? Michigan doesn’t offer any journalism classes, but U of Sevilla does!) and education.

On top of that I’ll be starting my intercambio, which is an language exchange program where I’ll be set up with a Spanish student and we’ll be speaking Spanish and English for an hour each week together.

So with a gym membership in my pocket and classes at the University on the horizon, I’m hoping my Spanish friends count will grow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Limbo-ing the Atlantic

(View of Sevilla from the top of the Giralda)

I don’t know at what point a new place becomes home. But I do know that as I was on the train coming back to Sevilla from Madrid this past weekend I did feel as though I was coming back to something.

I just haven’t figured out if that’s home or not.

There are plenty of aspects of this culture that I don’t understand yet and there are moments when I desperately crave American culture in all it’s bizarre glory; I have to read the New York Times, Boston Globe, Michigan Daily (some days all three) to feel connected again to a culture that seems so distant.

But I’ve only been here two weeks. I have to keep reminding myself that.

Two weeks ago I was sleeping in Dexter, eating comfort foods and complaining about the snow to my parents.

Today, I live in a 3-bedroom apartment that looks out onto the Guadalquivir River. Most days, I eat something I’ve never eaten in my life (normally of the fish variety). Some days I take photos, other days I choose to take in the scenery without a lens between my eye and the world.

But every night I’ve sat at the dinner table with Lyndsay and Chencha. We tell Chencha about our day after we compliment her food and once we’ve finished eating our weight in pasta or soup we continue to talk. Some nights we sit at the table for an hour after the food has gone cold and the dishes have been put in the sink.

It’s just different.

But I still sort of feel in limbo at this point. I’ve left America and with this exit, I feel a disconnect. Because this culture that I’m a part of now seems more unintentional than anything. As if I threw a dart to a map and decided to come to this little city in Southern Spain where the mix of Arabic and Catholic culture creates something incredibly unique.

But each day seems brings more ease to this life. I’ve found a coffee shop I like and I know where the cheapest ice cream is. I figured out which doors in the house stick and how to get warm water in the shower. I know a few short cuts in the city, but have enjoyed the long walks (read: getting lost only to get un-lost) that have led to these discoveries.

But I have enjoyed living in the midst of a city so full of history and beauty.

Today we visited the Cathedral of Sevilla and I climbed the Giralda and looked out past Sevilla’s city limits. An old Asian man climbed onto the platform with me and said something that I couldn’t understand. I looked at him and he repeated himself. I smiled and he knew that I didn’t understand what he was saying, so we just stood there together for a moment and finally he said: Boo-Tea-Full, while pointing to the city.

I nodded. This, I could understand. The disconnect wasn’t there and for a moment the old man and I enjoyed the city view before I jumped down to allow someone else up.

I guess that has been my favorite part of this trip so far, when I see how similar these two parts of my life really are and how for just a second it all seems like one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No pasa nada, just candy corn and unicorns

I think a defining moment in any relationship comes when all of a sudden it isn’t unicorns and candy canes. One could say, when suddenly the light ain’t so bright; when you face confrontation.

Well, Lyndsay and I had our first defining moment in our relationship with Chencha, our host mom, this morning.

It all started around 8:30 am when I trudged to the shower. I turned on the water and stepped into the refreshingly warm water. (Sevillan apartments don’t have central heating, so the house in the morning is freezing) Shortly after putting the shampoo in my hair all the lights went out.

“Okay,” I thought. “Either our apartment building is having a blackout or I’m about to die.”

I slowly stepped out of the shower, found my footing on the cold floor, grabbed a towel and cautiously walked towards Lyndsay and my room.

“Chantel?” a voice came from our room. “I think I just broke the electricity.”

Okay. Not a murder.

Possibly a blackout in our entire apartment building. Thanks for that Lynds.

Lyndsay explained to me how she had accidentally tripped over a power strip in our bedroom. Her trip set of a chain of reactions that eventually caused all the electricity in the apartment to stop working. Don’t ask me how, it doesn’t make sense.

I grabbed my flashlight and Lyndsay and I went to check around the house for other power strips to put in place of the ramshackled power strip. I don’t know why we did this. In the back of my mind I knew we had to go to the power box and flip some switch. (which really meant we needed to wake our sleeping Chencha and have her fix it). But Lyndsay was scared. This would be a defining moment in our relationship.

Finally, Lyndsay gave in and we stood at Chencha’s door. I slowly knocked and she said to come in.

Literally translated, Lyndsay said: I’m sorry Chencha. I broke the electricity in the whole house.

“No pasa nada/(No big deal),” Chencha said. And all five feet of Chencha got on a very tall chair and flipped a few switches in the power box.

Ten minutes later, Lyndsay and I were enjoying our breakfast (toast with fresh garlic and olive oil, surprisingly tasty) with a fully lit kitchen.

The power strip has been replaced, light has been restored, chaos has been subdued and we got over our first confrontation with Chencha, albeit small. Yes, we’re back to unicorns and candy canes.