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.