Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Power of Oil

While many of you may begin reading this post with the notion that I will be addressing oil (as in the oil we put in our cars) and the great power it maintains over our world today in terms of the global economy and global relations, I will unfortunately not be addressing any such matter, as important as it may be. However, while the oil we put in our cars may appear a more imposing force than the oil I am about to discuss, I think that by the end of this post, you might think differently about which one is more important (at least in terms of your own personal health and well-being.)

Every day for lunch, my host mother gives my roommate and me heaping plates of food. We usually look at the amount on our plates, then at each, take a breath and begin eating. While most people believe that all European countries eat smaller portions than we do, I don't think Spain should be considered one of those countries, at least not the Spain that I have come to know. The two main meals of the day are lunch and dinner; snacking is optional and usually consists of coffee and pastry at a cafe. So this means that while Spaniards may eat LESS than Americans, portion sizes are substantial due to the lack of snacking throughout the course of the day.

And today was no different. We had a nice big lunch of some kind of stew (I think) with potatoes, carrots, artichoke hearts, pork (I think), chorizo and peas. This was accompanied by bread (Córdoba is known for their "bread at every meal" rule) and then followed by a serving of cold shrimps. And at the end of lunch, just like every lunch, our host mother asked us if we wanted more, and just like every lunch, we responded with "Gracias, pero estamos llenas", or "Thank you, but we are full". I, however, made the mistake of saying that although I was full now, I would probably be hungry in two hours time.

...You should have seen the look my host mother gave me; I thought she was either going to pass out or eat my soul. "Why don't you eat more?" she said in Spanish. "I cook enough food for you to have two servings!" Immediately, I felt bad, so I quickly began explaining that my body just isn't used to the eating schedule here quite yet. I'm a grazer. I eat all day: smaller meals for lunch and dinner, and snacks in between. Also, as most of you may know, my blood sugar drops, and, well, that just isn't good for anyone within a 2 miles radius of me.

After explaining this, the fire in her eyes began to turn from blue to a light orange, so I thought I was in the clear. Oh, but I was not. My host father then made a comment that translates into something like, "Well that's why there is so much obesity in America. People eat and eat and eat until they can't anymore." I kind of looked at him and couldn't tell if he was calling me obese or not, but I quickly dismissed this idea because he's too nice to suggest such a thing, and, well honestly, if I'm obese, he's an elephant. I finally decided that he was merely comparing the two different cultural eating habits. He then started in on a full description of the Spanish diet, which of course he praised until the cows came home. He said that the omega 3s in the fish are wonderful for your health, and vegetables, fruit and protein are the dietary staples (in comparison to the Italians and their carbohydrates). And what is the essential difference between the American diet (oh, and yes, he threw the French diet under the bus, too) and the Spanish diet? The Spanish use of olive oil instead of butter.

Aceite de Oliva (Olive Oil). With what he said about it, you would have thought Jesus had risen from the dead. So there we were, at lunch, wanting a siesta, listening to our 66 year old host father talk about the health benefits of olive oil, in Spanish, not understanding anything (except for words like omega and cholesterol because, well, they're the same words in Spanish.) Finally, after talking about the perfection of the Spanish diet and my poor attempt at explaining that while yes, Americans may eat a lot, it's also about WHAT you eat, not necessarily how much, we were allowed to leave.

And what did I do? Did I siesta? No. I researched aceite de oliva (it just sounds better in Spanish, doesn't it?).

Well let me tell you. After reading up on this stuff, I might start bathing in it. Shoot, I might start drinking it like water. And I'm only being sarcastic to a point. Apparently, from what I could understand (in both English AND Spanish), aceite de oliva is high in monounsaturated fats. Translation: it helps to lower cholesterol in the body and, as such, is linked to the reduction of coronary heart disease. Also, it displaces some omega-6 fats while leaving the omega-3s intact, helping to maintain balance between the two in the body. Additionally (I might run out of transition words), aceite de oliva is believed to reduce blood sugar and blood pressure levels. "And what about cancer?" one might ask. Well shoot, preliminary research has begun to show that olive oil may reduce oxidative damage to DNA and RNA (no idea what that means), thus helping to prevent certain types of cancer (I think we all understand that part!).

However, there IS one negative point among the numerous positives. A high consumption of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in olive oil and other vegetable oils, may increase the likelihood of the development of breast cancer in postmenopausal women and prostrate cancer in men.

So while my host father was very right about the power of olive oil (aceite de oliva for poetic purposes) in some ways, too much of one thing is, as proven yet again, a bad thing. Moral of the story: aceite de oliva is good for your health, but keep the butter handy!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Who Let the Crazies Out???

So I've decided to keep a log of the weird occurrences that have come to, in some way, define my experience in Spain thus far.
Note: Everything I am about to log has happened to and/or been seen by me firsthand and is therefore true.

Number of beer bottles dropped in clubs prior to midnight: 5 (Come on people. Save the drunken sloppiness for after-midnight activities...whatever those may be.)

Number of times I've been assaulted: 1 (Granted, I should have known the man was crazy by the way he was talking to himself. He didn't hit me or anything...just shoved me in the back with an umbrella because apparently I got too close...even though I was 4 arms-length away from him...)

Number of children I have seen driving remote control cars down the sidewalk: 1 (Yes, there WAS parental supervision...and the car hit my foot.)

Number of children I have seen shooting at people from the steps of a church with a fake gun: 1 (I saw this today on my walk back from the gym, and the BEST part was that it was one of those guns with a knife on the end...a bayonet I think it's called???)

Number of women I have watched try to pick up a screw stuck in the crevices of the sidewalk: 1 (At first I thought it might have been a screw from her glasses or something she actually needed to pick up, but no, it was just a rusty nail...)

Number of times I have been asked for directions (in Spanish) to the same place: 6 (And no, I still have NO clue what place it is or where it is, but it's definitely been the same place every time.)

Number of clown performers seen in or just off of la Plaza de las Tendillas: 3 (They're the scary ones, too.)

Number of times my host mother has asked if I'm going out at night, and if I'm unsure, she demands I go: Countless.

All in all, my experiences so far have proven to me that Spain is a pretty eccentric country, but honestly, what country isn't? While it's quirkiness may be slightly quirkier than others, it never fails to entertain, and I'm loving every second of it.

Oh, and I finally asked my host mother why she always wants me and my roommate to go out at night. She said that if we go out and have fun, then we will leave with good memories of Spain and want to come back, unlike the other girls who have stayed in their rooms all semester only to have no memories of Spain and think it boring. I think I'm with my host mom on this one.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It Seems I'm Never in School...and I Made the Local Paper!

So today marks the end of my first week of classes. All is well, but unfortunately, it looks like one of my classes is going to get cancelled because only 3 people are in it. No worries, though; my friend and I are resourceful and charming, so I have no doubt in our ability to talk our way into a second class in the University.

However, academic classes are not the ONLY classes I am taking this semester. Tomorrow, I begin cooking classes, tomorrow's focus being on Cordobesa cuisine (or food specific to Córdoba), and Tuesday was the first day of dance classes! While we aren't learning flamenco because the technique is too difficult to master in the short time that we are here, we are learning sevillanas, a flamenco-style dance specific to Sevilla (Seville) and popular throughout Andalusia.

All in all, it's been a very busy week, and I've been trying to get a routine down with eating, sleeping, classes, naps, café time, etc. but I'm still struggling a little. And what DOESN'T help my inability to get down a routine (although I'm not REALLY complaining about it)??? We don't have classes this Monday because it's the Day of Andalusia! I'm telling you; Spaniards celebrate EVERY holiday possible in order to take a day off of work and school. It would be like Californians celebrating the Day of California, which would inevitably result in a state-wide closing of work places and schools. I mean don't get me wrong; I love 4 day weekends just as much as the next college student (or person for that matter), but that just means the creation of a set daily schedule/routine has been postponed for yet another week.

And what am I going to do this four day weekend you might ask? I have no idea. It's supposed to rain everywhere in Spain this weekend, I don't want to go to the Canary Islands or the Baleares for fear of getting stuck on an island in a tropical storm off the coast of a continent that is not my home, and I have some homework I should really do. However, I just received an invitation to spend the weekend with my friend and her host mother at her sister's house in a small pueblo just outside of Córdoba, so maybe I'll do that. It sounds kind of relaxing, no?

So with all of this said, I will leave you with one last fun fact about what's been going on in my life in Córdoba thus far: I have made the newspaper! That's right, folks! One week in Córdoba and yours truly has made the local paper (El Día de Córdoba) already. I'm in the group picture (yep, smack in the center of the first row...which my host mother found hysterical), and although we all took pictures with the director of the program at la Universidad, my picture was hand-chosen to be the only student-director photo. So here ya go, and I will be posting again sooner than later.

Monday, February 22, 2010

School Begins...FINALLY!

I sat down last night and read my most recent journal excerpts about my experiences in Spain so far. (The journal was given to me for Christmas by Frank; it has owls on it :-) ) In the first few passages, it sounds like the typical tourist log: "Salamanca is beautiful. The architecture is insane." "Today I learned that Toledo is the religious capital of Spain." etc. But as the days go on, things get a little bit more...emotional: "I feel like I'm dreaming", "I miss him", "If someone gave me a plane ticket to go home right now, I'd take it," etc. Then, I try to rationalize everything that's going on: "I'll be fine; I'm in Spain for God's sake," "This is where I'm supposed to be," "All I need is for classes to start; once I have a set routine, I will be fine," etc. Well, let's all hope my passages get a little bit happier in the weeks to come...for everyone's sake...

However! One of my wishes has finally come true! (And don't make fun of me for wanting this.) Classes officially start today! I know, I know. How weird of me to want classes to start, but as most of you know, I'm only good at being spontaneous for so long. I need a routine. I need to feel like I have a purpose. So today, I am off to The Practice and Theory of Prehistoric Material Culture (an archeology class) and Spanish Art: From Veláquez to Picasso. These are probably the two classes I am most excited about because a) they don't offer archeology study or practice at Wheaton and b) I have had NO space in my schedule at Wheaton to ever take an art history class. So Spain is my chance.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share the (good!) news, and leave you with the photograph below. I was at El Campeon drinking one of the drinks with the gummy bears at the bottom (do you remember??), and I looked on the wall and saw this plaque. A part of me felt great at first, reading about what is to come as a woman in the world, but then things got a little bit...darker.

Rough translation:
A woman is like the world.
At 20 like
Africa, almost completely unexplored.
At 30 like
India, warm and mysterious.
At 40 like
America, technically perfect.
At 50 like
Europe, everything in ruin
At 60 like
Siberia, knows where she is, but no one wants to go to her.

I'm not sure I believe it...

Oh...and it's still raining...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Carnaval: Córdoba 2010

Last night was Carnaval in Córdoba. From my bedroom, I could hear the festivities beginning in la Plaza de Tendillas. Trumpets sounded at about 8:30 pm, followed by the beating of drums. People cheered as the musicians began making their way to the Plaza Mayor. The crowds followed and would continue to do so all night as the entertainment traveled from plaza to plaza throughout the city.

Children and adults alike were dressed for the occasion. We saw everything from soldiers to pirates, princesses to demons, legos to doctors and nurses, and we even saw a group dressed up as Avatars from the major motion picture! (And yes, we took pictures with them.) Drinks were flowing, people sang and danced in the streets, and as seen in the picture below, people were getting more and more intimate as the night went on. And just as it started getting good and we were getting ready to move to the next plaza, what happened? It started. To rain.

People began leaving the Plaza where a comedy/musical act had just finished singing and dropping their pants, and needless to say, we were sad to see the festivities end. We tried to keep the evening in motion by going to a club, but the first one we went to was hosting a private party. We tried a second one, but it was an hour wait, and at 2:30 in the morning, that is a LONG wait. So, we ended our night at a local bar down the street from my house (El Campeon), which serves drinks with gummy bears at the bottom. It's pretty much a hole-in-the-wall dive where you don't use the bathroom, and the owner of the bar who serves the drinks always looks like he wants to kill himself, but all in all, it's a pretty fun place.

So even though Carnaval in Córdoba wasn't everything we had hoped it would be, it was worth going out and seeing the city in action after its long hiatus due to the rainy weather. And yes, that hiatus will begin again as yes, the rain is now beating against my window and will continue to do so until the end of February.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"I Believe in All Paths to God"

"I believe in all paths to God", said a woman. "I believe in all paths to God."

Note: All pictures beyond this point were taken today, and all images coexist within the same structure.

The religious and cultural struggle between Islam, Christianity and Judaism remains a key element in understanding Spain's history and, in some ways, Spain's present. With a history that includes a Golden Age, followed by multiple expulsions of the Muslims and the Jews (the very groups of people responsible for such a Golden Age), Spain's cultural and religious history remains long and complicated. However, the interesting part about Spanish history is that it is still alive today; we can still feel this struggle through Andalucia, especially in Córdoba, where the influence of all three cultures resonates throughout the people, the architecture, the food and even the street names.

La Mezquita is both a mosque and a church. It boasts Roman and Islamic arches yet is filled with Christian capillas (chapels). At first glance, the structure appears to be a hodgepodge; the architectural elements span centuries, cultures, religions, etc. However, while such sections are culturally and religiously conflicted, la Mezquita exists as a grand historical entity that, despite its contradictions, represents a cohesive cultural structure. While many elements are at work within this one building, they all coexist within their own relative beauty and style, and as such, la Mezquita remains a living example of Spanish history.

So which culture and religion reign supreme? Do the Muslims have the right to Córdoba since they were here 800 years before the Christians? Or do the Jews deserve more than la Judería because of the role they played in the Spanish Golden Age centuries ago? Or does Córdoba belong to the Christians, the last group to reconquer the city that was once the Islamic capital of the Western world? Personally, I don't think the city belongs to just one culture, one race, one ethnicity, or one religion. If anything, the city of Córdoba belongs to one history, a history consisting of the multiple cultures, races, ethnicities and religions that have passed through, lived within and constructed the city as a physical and ethnic entity. And so, I think that la Mezquita represents a tangible and realistic truth: that all paths, despite their differences, CAN in fact lead to God and CAN in fact coexist peacefully within one history. The history of Córdoba.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Red Shoes

Red Shoes

The highlight of the night took place in a narrow theater filled with red chairs.
And as the lights dimmed and the room went black, the only thing visible was a red stage.
And on that red stage appeared a red flamenco guitarrista.
And who better to join that red flamenco guitarrista than a red flamenco cantante.
But who stole the red show?
The red flamenco dancer.
The red flamenco dancer,
In her red shawl
With her red flower,
Dancing in her red shoes.
And as I watched her dance her red dance,
My mind went red.

Red chairs.
Red stage.
Red guitarrista.
Red cantante.
Red dancer.
Red shawl.
Red flower.
Red shoes.
Red dance.
Red song.
Red beat.
Red movement.
Red hands.
Red shoes.
Red OLE.
Red pose.
And as the red left the stage,
And the red light turned to white,
My world.

This is the Spain I Live

Here are a few photos that I have taken. I'm sharing them with you in hopes that I can semi-convey what I feel for Spain right now. This is how you let the beat build...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Sun Came Out in Córdoba

The sun came out in Córdoba today. I was walking through la Plaza de Tendillas down Concepción, and it was its rainy, gray self. And then all of a sudden, I couldn't see. I winced and put my hand up to my face, squinting to see what light was shining in my eyes, and low and behold, it was the sun. The clouds had broken and there it was, amongst the rain clouds. I couldn't believe it! It was like someone had felt my sorrows and willed the sun to come out just for me. And of course, I used it to my advantage. I looked straight ahead, kept walking and felt the old me come back, even if just for a few minutes. I guess things are finally starting to look up. I'm going to a jazz club tonight, and yes, I'm going to be that girl. Drinking coffee. In a jazz bar. In the dark. And guess what? I'm going to like.

Kissing is Only Natural

I will admit that the first few days in Spain, I felt a bit jaded. I found myself going through the motions and thinking, "Really? Everyone is going to kiss me right when I meet them? I don't know them like that!" But after thinking about it for the past few days, I think it's beautiful.

Today, I slept in and woke up to the sound of rainfall. Córdoba has set new rain records since I've been here, and so far, Spain in general has been anything but sunny to me. It's been cold and wet and gray, and honestly, it does not make for the best remedy for homesickness; if anything, it makes it worse. So as I laid in bed listening to rain beat against my window, I found myself burrowing into an increasingly dark place in my mind. Why am I here? Why did I do this? I'm scared, and I did this to myself. What have I done? I will never be able to survive this. And as I began having these thoughts more and more rapidly, I started to cry. The tears weren't tears of misery or anguish though; they were tears of fear. Absolute. Dread. But what is it that I'm dreading? Am I afraid of waking up every morning in a place where I can only speak Spanish? No, I'm doing just fine with that. Am I afraid of going to classes and finding them too difficult? No, I can do my schoolwork and do it well. Am I afraid of not making friends? No, I already have made wonderful friends who have proven that even through these sad and lonely times, they will comfort me as best they can. Then what is it?

I'm just afraid of change. Afraid that if I get comfortable here, I will change. Afraid that when I leave, I will again change. Afraid that everything I have left behind for now will change.

But what can I do? All I can do is live, wait, and accept the change.

So, I'm going to change my outlook on this right here, right now. I am going to give myself the cultural education I need. I'm not going to be afraid. I am going to Portugal and Italy as of now, and I will travel more as the weeks go on. I will party in the plaza and go to Carnaval. I will dress up in a costume and do my hair and make-up and be young and 20 in Spain. I will speak Spanish without worrying that I sound stupid. And I will thrive here just as I thrive at home, surrounded and supported by family and friends.

Oh and one last thing, I will kiss everybody on the cheek twice without feeling weird about it because here, it's only natural.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Salamanca, Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial, Barcelona and finally... Córdoba!

As referenced in the title of this post, I have traveled to all of the cities mentioned above since having arrived in Spain on February 4th. I'm sorry I haven't been blogging until now, but my Internet has been so inconsistent.

Anyway, we started our adventures in Salamanca. And let me tell you. Salamanca was a good time. It was gorgeous, and the night life in Salamanca was a great introduction to the Spanish night life. While there, I also began getting accustomed to the whole eating lunch at 2:30 and dinner at was rough for awhile.

Then on to Madrid! I won't lie. I wasn't all that impressed with Madrid at first, but after awhile, it started to grow on me. I think the exhaustion hit me the hardest in Madrid, so I didn't get to experience it fully. From Madrid, we traveled to El Escorial and Segovia, and I'll be honest, all of the palaces and museums and cathedrals we saw have all blurred together :-( BUT the Reina Sofia Museum in Spain was incredible. I saw Picasso's, El Greco's, Miro's, etc.

But I will admit. Barcelona was my favorite. I know a lot of Spaniards don't like Barcelona because of the whole catalan thing and the whole eurocentricism thing, but I don't care. Barcelona tries to be different, and I like that.

Anyway, I'm in Córdoba now, and I really like it. Granted, it's been gray and raining since I arrived so I haven't gotten the full experience, but from what I've seen and experienced so far, I think I'll be just fine here. It isn't too big, but it isn't too small either. I live right in the center of the city...if I turn left out of my doorway, I walk a couple feet and am literally in the center plaza, la Plaza de las Tendillas. People here seem nice enough, and the family I am living with is absolutely wonderful. They are a 60 year old woman and a 66 year old man, and they are absolutely adorable. They're funny and they kiss and she's a wonderful cook. The girl I live with also seems nice, but of course, I will have to get to know her.

Classes officially start next Monday, and I'm trying to work out my schedule. And as most of you all know, I'm a stickler about my schedules. I need routines to stay focused and happy.

Alright well, I need to go. I have to shower, soon and Frank is pestering me to read his facebook message.
Will post later!