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.