Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yo ya no soy yo

A few days before my departure from Madrid I began composing an e-mail draft that I had meant to send along to my mom.  Instead, my update turned into an impromptu writing exercise:

Yo ya no soy yo.
Por lo menos no soy el mismo yo interior.
~ Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

  As my time in Madrid comes to a close, I find myself searching for a way to epitomize my stay here.  I could recount the multitude of experiences that I've had in the last month--the strolls through Sol, the sleepy-eyed passengers aboard the Metro, laughter echoing the streets on a late Saturday night--but somehow that isn't enough.  Simply retelling all that has happened here lacks a certain cohesiveness.  I could write and write, meticulously detailing every moment spent in this miraculous city, but a certain essence characteristic of Madrid remains incommunicable.  In four short weeks, I've fallen madly in love with Spain, a fondness I can only describe as an unfathomable warmth, a newfound affection for a life I've only dreamed of.  It's one thing to indulge in fleeting hours wishing for the fulfillment of a long-held dream--it's quite another to experience the transformation of an imagined journey into reality.

  Somehow being in Madrid has managed to satisfy the restless longing that has accompanied my daily existence for several years now.  It's as if a bed of embers buried deep within me has suddenly burst into blue flickering flames.  I'm alive in a way that I never was before.  I'm content with the adventure of experiential learning, finding new knowledge in the field, in contact, in communication.  I'm fulfilled in a way that I never knew I could be--I'm awake.  Spain has given me the most beautiful of gifts: a self-confidence long-lost, a satisfaction with my own being.

  I wish there was a better way for me to express what the last month has meant to me.  Grasping at words, these phrases that I hope in some way can make sense of my time here, what I write is not quite what I want to say.  What I can tell you is that if you have the chance to step outside your comfort zone in a way that challenges you to be a different version of yourself, do it.  Although my time abroad has not transformed me completely, I am assured that I am no longer the same person.  I am not me anymore.  I can't explain what is different--I can only say that something is.  Something significant.  Something in the way I see the things around me.

  A large part of me is reluctant to leave Spain.  I do not doubt that I will return here but I feel a certain melancholia at the uncertainty of when such a reunion will occur.  Someday soon, I hope (though Madrid has taught me to embrace any experience with the potential for personal growth, whether in Spain or otherwise).  Few things surprise me more than all that I have gained in coming here: unexpected friendships, a unique breed of independence and a willingness to step into the unknown without the paralytic force of fear.  I feel more qualified to seek out the things I want, more capable of claiming my own destiny.  After years of letting myself be held back by fear of change, my old life has crashed down around me to allow room for a new one.  For this experience to have any sort of lasting impact on me, frankly for this trip to happen at all, it was necessary that my world come crumbling down.  On the other side of the catastrophe I see a peculiar quality of life that I had not previously been open to--I need not wait for all that I dream of to crawl toward me as if rolling on the heels of a distant fog.  I can--and should--chase after my ambitions, not on a whim, but pulled by the magnet of my passion.

  In this state of limbo, I'm not sure that I have many concrete observations to offer.  These musings are just about all I have the capacity to produce at the moment yet they offer a certain clarity (at least in my own mind) that I did not have at the beginning of this trip.  I will miss Madrid terribly... somehow I already do and I have yet to leave it.  I'm grateful to all the powers that be that this experience in itself was even possible.  So many what if's arise only for me to thank my lucky stars that I found my way here in spite of every frustration and mishap that I've experienced in the last year.  I can openly declare that I'm happy in a way that I've never ever been before.  This feeling in itself is the ultimate souvenir, the perfect impression to take away from an experience that has been wholly positive and overwhelmingly enriching.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Home stretch

Who knew two weeks could go by so quickly!  A lot has gone on since I last updated (weekend trips, museum visits, excursions) so I'll do my best to keep things brief.  Where to start!  A few weeks ago, our group took a weekend trip to Salamanca, a community in Castilla y León about 50 miles away from Portugal.  Like the majority of what we've been able to see since arriving in Spain, Salamanca was beautiful with a very rich history.  It's incredible to think just how long some of these cities have been in existence and the sort of legacy they carry.  Salamanca, especially, has a fair amount to boast about as far as the gems the city has to offer: two large cathedrals each with an extremely intricate façade, one of the oldest universities in Europe and their very own Plaza Mayor.

In the last week or so, I was able to pass through a handful of museums, including the CaixaForum, Museo de América and Museo Reina Sofia.  It's incredible just how many treasures the city of Madrid holds.  Visiting Museo de América was a particularly amazing experience for the sheer age of many of the items inside.  There were pieces dating back to the 400s!  It's amazing to me that such objects have been found, yet alone preserved.  At the CaixaForum, I was able to see two exhibits: William Blake and Piranesi.  The Reina Sofia was probably my favorite museum out of the three.  I saw several of Dalí's paintings, as well as Picasso's extremely well-known piece, 'Guernica.'  I still find myself incredibly blown away by the fact that many of these pieces of art are so accessible to me here.  As a student, I also have the privilege of free admission to many of the museums in the area, another port of access to several extremely significant historical landmarks, artifacts and works of art.

We were also able to visit El Escorial, a historical residence of the King of Spain. It functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum, and school.

This past weekend a few of us were able to take a weekend trip to Barcelona.  I have no clue where to start as far as describing Barcelona goes simply because it is SO different than Madrid.  A cooler climate, closer to the coast, far more tourists and some extremely stunning architecture.  We took the RENFE (train) to the city--a trip which ended up to be about nine hours total--then took the Metro to our hotel.  Much like Madrid, the easiest way to get around Barcelona seemed to be the Metro!  During our time in Barcelona, we were able to walk through the city center, visit the Picasso museum, have tapas and sangria, go on a walking tour with pit stops at some of Gaudí's most well-known buildings and visit Barceloneta beach.  Despite a few bumps and frustrating moments, on the whole, the trip to Barcelona was extremely worthwhile and although it was a very short stay, we were able to see a fair amount!

Anyway, we've made it to our last week of the program and I'm already having a bit of separation anxiety as far as leaving Spain goes.  Being here has been such a positive experience and I feel like there is still so much for me to see and do here, just not enough time.  I do very much miss my family and friends though and will be happy to come home in two weeks after a pit stop in Norway to visit Claudia and Tony.  The next time I update I will most likely be in Bergen!  Thanks again everyone for all of your love and support.  This month has been truly amazing. xo

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A mitad de camino

Doing my best to update on a weekly basis so here you have it: my latest blog entry.  Since I last wrote, we made a visit to Segovia and somehow already managed to hit midterm exams.  Many of my friends from the program here spent last weekend in Pamplona for the running of the bulls but three of us stayed behind for the excursion to Segovia offered by our university.  Much like Toledo, Segovia very much had an antiquated feel to it, yet it was somehow like being caught somewhere between the Roman empire and a fairytale.  First of all, the city itself is absolutely gorgeous.  Much, much smaller than Madrid, Segovia only has about 60,000 inhabitants.  While there, we were able to visit the Aqueduct, the Alcázar (a castle!) and the cathedral, as well as la Iglesia de la Vera Cruz.  It was an incredibly surreal experience to pass through the castle, almost like being transported to another time period.  I'm very thankful that we've been able to explore provinces outside of the capital.  It's really amazing just how much there is to see and do here in Spain.

This week, we took a tour of the Palacio Real (The Royal Palace).  The palace itself is enormous and has 2800 rooms (we were only able to visit about thirty of them in our time there).  The interior is extremely intricate and is in itself a work of art with regards to the use of a multiplicity of construction materials and decorations, including paintings by Velázquez and Goya.  Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the palace so I was limited to taking pictures of the view of the exterior and the courtyard.  You'll be able to see just what I mean as far as how enormous the palace is!

The hustle and bustle of class, weekly visits and excursions has been absolutely incredible, though I have to admit some of my favorite moments here have been ones I've spent alone, wandering, exploring and relaxing.  Yesterday I took the Metro to a neighborhood called La Latina to find a café-bar called Delic recommended by one of my guidebooks.  After about a 15-minute detour (I walked the opposite direction that I needed to coming out of the Metro station), I finally stumbled into la Plaza de la Paja and lo and behold, there it was!  The woman who helped me was extremely kind and when I asked for something sweet, she recommended una tarta de banania (banana and dulce de leche).  It was absolutely delicious!  I spent a good hour and a half at least sipping a café con leche and taking leisurely bites of what was very yummy cake.  Hoping to make another visit that way before leaving the city in two weeks.

This weekend, we're heading to Salamanca.  I have no idea what to expect but I'm very much looking forward to exploring a little bit more of Spain in the upcoming days.  Next weekend, I'm making a trip to Barcelona with a few friends from the program.  We've been debating for the last week or so whether or not to go and finally found transportation that was inexpensive enough to justify taking a weekend detour.  Again, I have no expectations so it'll be an adventure, that's for sure!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Victoria y celebración

I finally managed to come across some free alone time so I thought I'd take a few minutes to write out another update.  A week later, I can still say that I absolutely love it here in Madrid.  It's been a series of transitions, from getting used to new eating habits (Spaniards eat much later in the day) to navigating my way around the city, but I'm slowly but surely getting used to being here.  One thing that is more or less the same as home is the 90-100° F weather... I thought I'd left the heat behind in the States!

Anyway, it's been another busy couple of days for us but we've had the chance to do some of the most amazing things!  On Saturday, Spain and Italy faced off in the final match of the Eurocup and we were able to head out to Estadio Santiago Bernabéu (Real Madrid plays there during their season) and watch the game on the big screens outside.  I have never experienced anything like the atmosphere of Bernabéu during the game.  There's a certain national pride and solidarity that I don't think is paralleled at all in the US.  So much spirit and high energy... it's obvious that the Spanish are not just passionate about the game but their country.  The enthusiasm displayed at the game was certainly amplified when it came time to celebrate the win.  On Monday evening, la selección española made its way through the city of Madrid and fans were gathered by the hundreds (the thousands, I'm sure) near Gran Vía and the Plaza de Cibeles to greet the players.  Here you can find an awesome photo that perfectly captures the madness of the evening--so cool!  I even managed to get a good look at Iker Casillas as the players passed through the Plaza for the celebration!  Needless to say, I was starstruck.

This week also marks the start of our classes for the summer.  We took a placement test on Monday morning so that the difficulty of our courses would correspond adequately with our skill level.  I was placed in B2 (avanzado) and will be taking a Spanish history course, as well as a class on the contemporary Spanish novel.  Lucky me, I was able to get into my first two choices!

Other than that, the last few days have been filled with lots of walking and exploring.  We've been able to make a lot of new friends through the residencia what with all of the different groups and organizations living here.  Two programs from Berkeley are actually staying here in the dorms with us so it's been really amazing to be able to meet so many people I probably never would have encountered on a campus as big as ours.  Having so many great new friends around has made being away from home much easier for me, although I do very much miss everyone back in the US.  I'm sure the next few weeks will go by terribly quick though so I'm trying to enjoy things while they last.

Till next time! xo