Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Goodnight, Córdoba

It’s 4:26 am. I’ve officially become nocturnal.

Today is my last day in Córdoba. Tomorrow we will leave for Madrid, and the day after, I will fly the million and a half hours home to San Francisco.

I’ve been dreading this blog post. I don’t know how to start it, how to end it or how to write anything that is suppose to come in between…but here goes nothing.

I’ve been feeling very withdrawn lately. I’m doing that thing where I go through the motions. I put on the smile, I crack the jokes, but deep inside, I’m totally numb. It’s not that I’m sad, I don’t think. Or maybe it is…? Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss Córdoba, but Córdoba isn’t my home. I have loved every second of this, but I’ve taken all I can out of this experience for right now. And now, well...now, it’s time to go home. It’s time to go home to finish what I’ve started and to start something new all over again.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified for the summer and my senior year at Wheaton. I got the internship I wanted at ABC, and that’s all great and exciting, but…I mean… I have to buy “business-casual” clothing! I know that sounds kind of ridiculous to some of you, but I’ve never had to do this before. I don’t know how to be “business-casual” in an office with professionals where they have office supplies and mailrooms and coffee machines (one of which I’ll probably break knowing my luck). What if I’m not good at it? Or… what if I am?

And then comes senior year. I have to survive two senior seminars, write a thesis and apply to Graduate programs. And I have to do all of this while riding an emotional rollercoaster with highs of excitement and lows of fear and dread because I’m about to become “all grown up”. “When I grow up” is about to become a reality, and I’m not sure if I can handle that just yet.

And then of course where does Córdoba end up in all of this? Does it become a life-changing experience? Does it serve as the starting point of my independent, “adult” life? Or does it merely become a distant memory, a memory of a time when I didn’t have anything to worry about except being alive and present in that memory?

Unfortunately, I just don’t have the answers right now, and who knows when I’ll figure all of it out. I guess now all I can do is say goodbye to Córdoba and all of the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.

And I know this may sound strange, but I think the person I will miss the most is my host mother (as crazy as she makes me at times). She’s taught me that fiber is good for you (but only up to a point), that it’s okay to think someone is ugly (you just don’t necessarily have to exclaim it for everyone in the room to hear), and that women (especially Spanish women) can gossip at the speed of light without even meaning to.

And then of course there were tonight’s words of wisdom. First, you must always eat (because if you don’t, you will have your Spanish host mother, her sister and her best friend holding three plates in front of you all at once so you can pick what you want and stuff your face). Second, love and just wanting to have sex with someone over and over again are not the same things (and yes, she REALLY said this…in front of my friends nonetheless). And finally, love (or any cultural equivalent) is blind in every country, in every time zone and in every universe.

So, I suppose despite all of these feelings I’m experiencing at the moment, at least I have my host mother to help me find the humor and the beauty in all of it…right? ☺

Córdoba has been good to me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

P.S. It’s now 5 am. And I’m still not tired. Ugh…

Monday, May 24, 2010

My 21st Birthday and Feria!

My birthday weekend just so happened to fall on the same weekend as Córdoba’s Feria this year, and I must say, Córdoba knows how to throw one hell of a party. On midnight the 22nd, we all gathered to watch as the Feria structure (shown below) and the fireworks over the river lit up the night sky. And yes, I’ll admit, I secretly pretended all of this was in celebration of my 21st birthday (a girl can dream).

Feria in Córdoba lasts from the 21st until next Sunday, and it’s essentially Romería on steroids. All of the major city groups, such as political parties, social organizations, the policemen, the firemen, etc., all host their own casetas. These casetas span at least a mile in diameter, and of course, heavy drinking is involved. However, it isn’t aggressive drinking; most people will start at dinnertime and slowly drink towards drunkenness until about 5 or 6 in the morning. And the adults aren’t the only people that stay out late. The first night of Feria, we walked home at 3:30 in the morning, and small children were still on the street, walking hand-in-hand with parents or siblings or being carted around half-dead in strollers. Partying hard isn’t an option during Feria: it’s an obligation.

Still, drinking in the casetas isn’t the only thing you can do. That same night, two of my friends and I decided we wanted to ride the Ferris wheel (yes, a full carnival is included at the Feria celebration). We walked right up to the round, neon structure, bought tickets and hopped on, waiting for the view of the city that was sure to come. However, this Ferris wheel was not your typical Ferris wheel. No, this was the FASTEST Ferris wheel in the WORLD (I’m almost positive of it). While the view from the top was absolutely gorgeous, the ride was a little unnerving. I don’t know how many times I almost barfed because every single time we came to the rounding at the top of the wheel, it felt like my stomach was about to fall out of my butt. Still, it was such a great way to start off my birthday celebrations, along with, well, the late-night chocolate con churros and chicken kebab that came after to end the night.

And the following night, the celebration continued. My wonderful friends took me out for a tapas dinner where I’m pretty sure we consumed all ordered food within 7 minutes of the plates reaching the table. We then made our way to Feria for a few drinks and some dancing, and we ended the night in Sojo, a very chic club that overlooks Feria from the opposite side of the river. It was all very low-keyed, and I came away a little drunk with a henna tattoo and a big block of chocolate rice krispies (which were meant to serve as my birthday cake). All in all, I’d say Spain in the spring was a pretty great birthday venue.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

La Romería...Let the Country Drinking Commence!

I’m not even sure how to begin this blog post because I don’t think I can provide a…suitable? accurate? fitting? description of what I experienced this Saturday. All I know is that I haven’t had that much fun…possibly ever. But here’s my best attempt at the impossible.

This Saturday we traveled to Cañete de las Torres, a pueblo about an hour outside of Córdoba, to take part in La Romería. And I’ll be honest; a lot of what happened is a bit of a blur because we started drinking at 9 o’clock… in the morning.

The bus ride there was exhilarating. We had all woken up disgustingly early to do our hair and makeup (if you were a girl), to get into the outfits we borrowed from PRESHCO specifically for this occasion and Feria (which begins next weekend), and to get to the bus stop at 8 AM (what an ungodly hour!). No one could stop smiling. No one could wait to get there. And no one really knew what they were getting themselves into.

Once on the bus, we started to realize what was coming when Encarni began handing out packages of wet napkins. My roommate, upon receiving hers, asked, “Wait…they don’t have bathrooms there?” Encarni just looked at her and laughed saying, “No, cariña, there are no bathrooms during el camino (the walk).” My roommate and I looked at each other, half amused half terrified, and decided that it would just be best to not worry about it until we had to.

Once we finally arrived in Cañete, the camino began as we (and everyone else dressed for the occasion) paraded through the streets of the pueblo, boasting outfits that well, as you can see from the pictures below, were based around the following themes: bright colors, polka dots, ruffles, flowers and pretty much anything else loud that screamed “Hey! Look at me!”

Then, after every person in town had his or her fair share of flaunting such attire, our journey through the campo (the countryside) began.

Now picture this:

Over 700 hundred people, following a statue of San Isidro down a deserted country road, wearing such attire as shown below, stopping every so often to pee on an olive tree, passing tapas and (more) beer through the street every hour or so, continuously drinking and smoking and laughing.

All of this merriment then went on for about…2 hours or so I would say, and until finally, just at the bottom of the final hill, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

As we approached the casetas (which were pretty much tents set up for each family/group that attended La Romería), we all drunkenly staggered to our respective tent. The PRESHCO caseta was lined with green paper lanterns. Three long tables filled with various tapas stood waiting just under the white tarp, and yes, our very own full-service bar was included in this wonderful, festive package. From that point on, we drank sangria, beer and this white wine drink (phenomenal) while eating tapas, laughing at each other’s clothing and dancing sevillanas somewhat successfully for a good part of the afternoon.

At one hilarious point during all of this, my friends and I decided we had to go to the bathroom. Now, while there were civilization’s porta-potties at the event, we opted for the more natural of choices and chose to do as the Spanish do. We walked out of the caseta and instead of making the first right that led to the plastic, toilet death traps, we proudly pranced towards the campo. Laughing hysterically, we ran through the olive trees, a roll of toilet paper in hand (yes, we come prepared) and yes, Mom, there in the middle of the Spanish campo, we squatted down and let loose. And no, we weren’t alone in doing so because about 10 trees down, about 7 other people had had the same idea we did.

Overall (and after our group field trip to the natural toilets of the campo), the rest of the day was just filled with yes, more drinking, paella, visiting other casetas, dancing and taking absolutely ridiculous photos that most of us today don’t even remember taking. All in all, I think it was a very successful cultural experience because yesterday, we definitely did as the Spanish do (aka drank copious amounts of alcohol, ate so much jamón iberico that I’m surprised I’m not a ham at this very moment, danced sevillanas, wore the get ups, and yes, peed in the campo).

And no, we didn’t have to walk the 4 miles back to Cañete, thank God. A bus came to pick us up, and we returned to Córdoba by 4 pm. Then, I napped, got up to eat dinner, went back to sleep and now, here I am, happy as a clam ☺.

Thank God Spanish fiestas.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Truth is Anything but Pretty

I must admit that my host mother, despite her faults, definitely has one redeeming quality: she is brutally honest. Now, I thought my real mother was brutally honest when it came to telling me how it is, but I have to say that these past few days, my host mother has been in rare form.

For example, we were eating lunch two days ago and my host father decided he wanted a kiwi.

"Oh, it's very sweet and ripe. Just how I like it," he said. "When it's like this, it has so much fiber."

My host mother then replied, "Oh yes, fiber is very good for you, but for me, if I eat too much, Señor Toilet will be a very visited man."

...I couldn't help myself. I lost it. I spit food everywhere and laughed hysterically for at least two minutes. My host mother just stared at me smiling, and once my laughing fit ended she said, "Well it's true. It's good to visit the Señor at least three times a day, but too much fiber and Señor Toilet gets tired of me!"

So, as you can see, my host mother is brutally honest about her bowel movements.

Today, we had a similar hysterical moment, although today, she was honest about something quite different. We were talking about this girl who stayed with them two or three years ago. This particular girl had to wear a scarf over her hair every night while she slept so her hair would remain just so. All of a sudden, in the middle of the conversation about the hair scarf, my host mother exclaims, "OH! but she had such a beautiful profile. Absolutely PERFECT for any artist." I smiled at this because usually my host mother is very open about letting us know when she thinks someone is ugly (and yes, she just flat out calls them ugly). However, just as I began placing that moment in my memory bank as one of her more endearing moments, she qualified her statement by saying, "Oh yes, gorgeous profile. The front of her face wasn't very pretty, but her profile! I could look at her profile all day."
...Again, at hearing this, my jaw dropped, and again, I started hysterically laughing. Who says that???

So, once again as you can see, my host mother is brutally honest about physical appearance.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Will Miss You, I Will Miss You Not

Lists of things I will NOT do once I leave Spain:

1. I will not eat fried food. (Just because you fry something in olive oil does NOT mean eating fried food every day is okay in any way, shape or form. I just can’t do it anymore. My body doesn’t understand why I’m abusing it like this!)

2. I will not eat soup. (I had chicken noodle soup with eggs in it last night for hmmm…the one-millionth time since I’ve been here? It’s gotten to the point where I can smell when my madre is cooking soup in the kitchen and my stomach immediately shuts down. My body goes into a complete state of aversion just from the soup fumes! I don’t want it. I just don’t want it.)

3. I will not stay up until 4 a.m. (Spaniards are impressive creatures. I have no idea how they stay out so late on the weekends and are then able to reverse their sleep schedules just in time for classes during the week. If I stay up too late one night during the weekend, my sleep schedule is screwed for the next two weeks…or…the next four months…whoops.)

4. I will not smell like smoke after 10 minutes in a restaurant, club, bar, or any other enclosed public area. (I’m so thrilled that I will be able to go out to eat and NOT have to worry about someone sitting next to me and ruining my dinner because he/she has decided to light up in the middle of the restaurant. Some people get headaches from cigarette smoke, you know!)

5. I will not be late to class. (After living here for 4 months, you learn that if the class schedule says 10:30, class doesn’t ACTUALLY start until at least 10:40. Therefore, you can wake up 10 minutes later than you were planning, or you can stop for a coffee on the way to class, or you can just walk really, really slowly to the university.)

6. I will not just push past people in a crowd without apologizing. (People here do not watch where they walk; it’s just a fact of life. They will push past you, abruptly stop walking right in front of you, and overall just not pay attention to where they are walking. And worst of all, they typically don’t apologize…unless they completely take you out. So, you learn real quick that it’s either push or be pushed.)

7. I will not fear for my life when crossing the street. (The pedestrian does NOT have the right-of-way in Spain. If you cross the street when you aren’t supposed to, they WILL attempt to hit you just to teach you a lesson. Drivers here know they have all the power because they have the car…and they use it to their advantage. The number of car-related deaths in Spain must be ridiculously high…and sometimes, it almost feels like drivers WANT to make you a statistic…)

8. I will not feel self-conscious while wearing shorts and a tank top, a short dress or any other summer outfit in public. (Girls here are all about wearing the nude tights under shorts, skirts, short dresses, even jeans. It’s like outside air can never touch your bare skin unless you want to be publicly scrutinized. Girls your age will stare at you in disbelief, adults will look at you either in shock or disgust, and old men will walk right up to you, smile, look you up and down, and then mutter something dirty while you walk away.)

9. I will not feel the need to wake up every morning and feel like I need to put a ridiculous amount of effort into how I look before I go outside. (Women here dress up to go to the supermarket. Shoot, they wear a full layer of makeup just to go to the gym. I didn’t even bring a pair of sweatpants to Spain for fear of the ridicule. I cannot wait to spend an entire day in my sweatpants when I get home without my host mother declaring, “Aren’t you going to change?!?!? You don’t want people to see you like that!"...Although I'm pretty sure my REAL mother will say something very similar to me regardless...)

And finally…

10. I will not forget how much fun I’ve had. (While I may complain about certain cultural differences, I’ve actually had an incredible experience. I’ve proven a lot of things to myself on this trip, and I’m feeling incredibly confident in my ability to come home, finish off college and start a new chapter in my life. And despite all that I’ve said previously, I WILL miss the relaxed, nonchalant, over exaggerated, incredibly loud and overall beautiful Spanish way of life. HOWEVER. There IS one thing I will miss the most… and that is DEFINITELY the designated siesta time ☺.)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Los Patios

For Córdoba, the month of May means one thing—¡Fiesta!

While smaller festivals take place throughout the course of the month, such as La Cata, Las Cruces and Los Patios, the month ends with the biggest festival of all—La Feria (which I’m sure I will blog about later).

Unfortunately, I missed Las Cruces because I was in Portugal (not TOO heartbreaking, thank goodness). But I can still provide a brief description of what it’s all about. Crosses covered completely in red roses (signifying the blood Jesus spilled to save us all) are erected in Plazas throughout the city. Various flowers are then placed around the crosses, each composition bearing the unique design signature of a given Cordobesan. These crosses then stand in the Plazas for three days, since usually by that time the flowers start to wilt. Finally, the city declares a winner on Sunday, and a cash prize is given to the designer of the best cross display.

I was here, however, for Los Patios (which takes place from May 5th to the 16th). Each year, various homes in Córdoba compete for the title of best patio display. Flowers, plates, paintings, props, etc. fill patios across the city, and visitors are welcome from 11am -2pm and 6pm-11pm. Again, at the end of the festival, the city declares a winner and a cash prize is given to the home with the best display (which is usually the home that spends the most money on decorations).

Below are some of the pictures I took today during our patio tour. Unfortunately, the weather in Córdoba has decided to be continuously stubborn (and borderline insufferable), so we didn’t get much sun. The flowers, however, did help to brighten the day significantly. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010


The sun is strong today. I can feel it browning my face and chest. I’ll have to go down to the water soon. The cold will provide a much-needed break from the heat.

I can’t believe where I am right now. I lay on my towel with my eyes shut, listening to the sounds of the beach. My friend’s music plays at my feet (Red Hot Chili Peppers right now). A group of boys throws a football back and forth, right in front of where we’re planted (if that ball hits me, I’ll hurt someone). And behind us, a family sits, speaking loudly in Portuguese (I have no idea what they’re saying, but it sounds important).

I can’t believe where I am right now. I open my eyes, sit up, and what I see doesn’t look real. The rocks rising out of the clear, green-blue water, the cliffs surrounding all sides of the beach bearing their strata for all to see, all of it looks just like a postcard.

I can’t believe where I am right now. I reach to my side to pick my beer up out of the sand. I take a sip and notice that the sand has stuck to the bottom of the perspiring bottle. As much as I want to clean it off for my own compulsive reasons, I decide I don’t mind the sand when I’m at the beach. It, like everything else in this world, has its place in the universe, and right now, it’s meant to be on my towel, probably in my purse and definitely on the bottom of my beer bottle.

I can’t believe where I am right now. I turn on to my stomach, and my shoulders welcome the sun. I can’t help but think about how hard it will be to leave this and take that bus back to Córdoba in a few hours. While a part of me is anxious to finish finals, the other part of me just wants to stay on this beach forever, never allowing day to turn into night, defying the moon and willing the sun to remain exactly where it is at this very moment.

I can’t believe where I am right now. I can’t believe where I am right now. I can’t believe I’m about to leave where I am right now. But…I need to leave right now, now and in three weeks times. I need to leave because I have things to take care of. I need to leave because there are people I need to see, there are people I can’t let down. I need to leave because I have responsibilities in this world just like everyone else.

But for now, I can’t believe where I am right now, and I don’t want to think about anything else.