So this is it. The end. El fin. The closing remarks. The final hoorah you might say. I’m in the home stretch with one more essay to turn in and my last final tomorrow, my time here in Madrid is coming to a close. When I first signed up for this course I thought, “ok awesome, at least now I’ll be getting some Gallatin credits while abroad and (hopefully) a good grade.” However, it turned out to be a much more significant experience than that. The Art of Travel course forced me to sit down weekly and reflect on my experience and everything I’ve been confronted with here in Spain, it’s provided me an outlet with which to express my thoughts and feel a sense of creativity that are generally lacking in language courses. Reflection is something that I really have been trying to work on, but it’s difficult when you get caught up in school work, jobs, financial stress, your social life… It just feels as though there isn’t enough time in the day. I’m grateful that this course has given me an outlet to look back on my experience and realize it wasn’t as terrible as I thought.
Not to toot my own horn or anything… but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made this semester. My Spanish language skills have increased much more than I thought they had and looking back… I’ve done a pretty damn good job considering everything. I’ve struggled with some personal issues while being abroad and while it’s kind of scary to see that reflected in my blog posts over the semester, I find it extraordinarily interesting. This is a little heavy, but this semester I had to start taking depression and anxiety medication, something that is unfortunately all too common for American university students, but the weird thing for me was that I wasn’t in America? I was in a laid back country with an easy going attitude towards life, I couldn’t figure out why I felt this way? Reading my previous posts, I see the progression of myself from the super happy optimistic bubbly girl cracking cheesy jokes that I began this semester as, to a less happy girl using even cheesier jokes to thinly veil pessimism and the fact that I wasn’t satisfied with my abroad experience, to not even trying to be funny or optimistic (sorry if those posts were dull, at least they weren’t sharp… like cheddar… because my jokes are cheesy…. Ooof that was rough).
In the past few weeks however, I’ve realized what an incredible experience this has been. I mean we all just lived in a completely different country with a completely different language for five months and although a lot of college students do go abroad, very few are fortunate enough to break out of their comfort zone. Yes, this was scary and difficult but it was absolutely amazing and definitely worth it.
I go back to Texas on the 31st of December, leaving from Madrid mid day and touching down state-side a couple of hours before the New Year. I’ll celebrate with my friends then spend the first few days of 2016 with my family before heading off to New York for my last semester of college. Hopefully I’ll get a job after graduation, and life will move on. I may lose some of my Spanish language skills (although I’m trying to get a part time job teaching Spanish and English next semester so hopefully this isn’t the case), and I’ll eventually reset my internal clock to the New York City pace of life… no more dinner at 11 pm and a siesta from 2 to 5… and I probably will never drink a decent 1-euro bottle of wine on a regular basis ever again…. But I know for a fact that I’ll never forget my time here in Madrid, the people I’ve met, the struggles I faced, the knowledge I gained, and what the cities means to me. I know I’ll return again some day soon so it’s not adios, but hasta luego Madrid.
So as the semester is winding down (I seriously don’t know how there is only one more week of classes?!) we’ve been asked to make a post about tips for future students and travelers to our abroad site. So, I present to you, Maggie Boreham’s first ever “Guide for an Idiot Abroad: Madrid Edition”
Hi – so you’re thinking about traveling to Madrid eh? Well, you’ve probably got a few questions, I know that I sure did. No worries, expert traveler (lol) Maggie Boreham has got you covered. Here are some common concerns and answers for you:
Should I study in Madrid?
Great question. Yes. Yes you should. However, I’m not going to lie this site is really only beneficial if you’re trying to learn Spanish. If you want to learn German, French, or Italian the capital of Spain probably isn’t the place for you. Most of the classes offered here are Spanish language or culture courses.
What do you wish you knew before arriving in Madrid?
I honestly wish I knew two things: (1) That Malasaña is the best neighborhood, especially for coffee shops, bookstores, places to study, and of course bars (2) If you want to see Real Madrid play FC Barcelona in El Clásico… buy your tickets in advance. Unless of course you have $2000 of pocket change your willing to drop on a ticket then yes by all means wait until the week before the match.
What were the biggest problems you faced?
My two biggest problems I faced were, (1) feeling like I didn’t have enough time to experience Madrid. How might one solve this? Stay a year if possible and don’t take 18 credits as tempting as it may be. Part of the study abroad experience is enjoying cultural emersion which is difficult when you have packed yourself with such a heavy schedule you can’t enjoy yourself. And (2) being a vegan is impossible in this city. If you have any strange dietary needs such as myself, please learn how to cook for yourself before departure, or alternatively, find a roommate willing to cook for you.
What do you think you will do differently when you return to New York?
Back in NY I have a really set and structured schedule, however here in Spain I’ve adopted their way of life in which it’s totally fine to hit the snooze alarm one, two, even five times, and arriving five minutes late to something is still considered on time. I expect this to be a difficult adjustment… but not as big an adjustment as the financial differences between the two cities. I most likely will never go shopping in New York again and in terms of alcohol, forget it… after paying a euro for an entire bottle of wine in Madrid you won’t catch me paying $5.50 a glass in NYC. Lastly, I think I’m going to be throwing out a lot of Spanglish when I return, saying “pardon” whenever I bump into people on the street.
What will you take note of at home that you hadn’t noticed before?
Again… how much things cost and just how broke I am. This is going to be a sad readjustment.
What do you think you’ll remember years from now?
Honestly, the traveling around Spain and the rest of Europe. So much (except Dubrovnik which requires a 20 hr flight for a minimum of $500) is accessible from Madrid. How do I know this will stick with me? Well I got a tattoo this week that says “Viajera” which literally is Spanish for traveler (#basic), so no I don’t plan on forgetting anytime soon.
I hope that as you embark on your journey you are excited to take on what this beautiful country has to offer. Buena suerte!!
So this semester has definitely been an interesting one. I’ve realized a lot about myself and most importantly, realized that I’m not as adaptable as I had previously believed. I love travel and always have loved experiencing new cultures and meeting new people…. Until now. I’ve realized that I’m not a cuttlefish.
I know what you’re thinking, “Maggie, clearly you’re not a cuttlefish. You’re a human.” I know… but hear me out. If you have never seen them in action before, cuttlefish are this freaky little sea creature that aren’t even really fish at all. A few fun facts about this weird mollusk: they have an internal shell, 9 arms, 2 tentacles, have a life expectancy of a little over a year, are fairly intelligent (for an invertebrate), ink themselves when they’re threatened, and are called the “chameleons of the sea.” Straight up, these things automatically camouflage themselves to their surroundings. I, do not.
This semester I’ve realized that most of my past travels weren’t as culturally immersive as I had thought and I am not adaptable. I’ve been traveling in a bubble. This semester though, I was thrown into the deep end (apologies for all the aquatic references). I had expected to come to Spain and, like I had in the past, be able to maintain my normal New York City routine. In the past when confronted with a new culture, I had thought that I was still able to fully experience what life would be like long term there while still keeping my 6 am wakeup call, packed day, hippie vegan diet, and anti-tourist agenda… pretty much my lifestyle in New York City.
However, after about a month and a half being in Spain, I realized this wasn’t going to work for me… I was going to have to change. My routine didn’t vibe with the Spanish clocks. It’s hard to wake up at 6 am in a city where they like sleeping so much that for 3 hours everyday a solid chunk of stores closes for “siesta” time (I haven’t had naptime since Kindergarten… so this definitely felt like a bit of a regression to me).
I’m actually really happy that this week’s prompt was about change because only yesterday I delivered a TED talk at NYU Madrid about change and transformation in which myself and another student were asked to share an experience about adapting to unexpected challenges in our lives. I was asked to speak about my veganism and how I’ve coped with being in a country where the staples are ham, cheese, and bread. My answer to this? I haven’t. I’ve had a really hard time settling into Spanish culture and I’ve learned, much to my disappointment, that Madrid is definitely not the city for me. I’m just not laid back enough and much like a child I need constant stimulation otherwise I just get bored and depressed.
However, I’m going to look at this lack of transformation as a positive: if Madrid isn’t the city for me and I’m obviously not happy with everywhere I go, then it just means I’m one step closer to finding the perfect place for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Madrid, but I’m clearly not meant to live here… To much of a good thing can ruin it you know? I’ll keep traveling and keep breaking out of my bubble to find what makes me uncomfortable and what makes me happy, and unlike a cuttlefish… I don’t think I’ll ever be able to blend in to every single setting I’m in… but I also have a spine, so who really cares?
Honestly… I’ve messed up a lot in this city: from missing a flight, to breaking my phone (twice), to getting lost alone in the city, to accidentally ordering a pile of squid instead of a side of mushrooms, to booking my train home for the wrong day, trying to speak to Germans in (horrible) Spanish, getting my phone stolen, travelling to a beach in the rain, breaking the straps on my only carry on bag, forgetting underwear for a weekend trip, and most recently, thinking a random person’s apartment door was access to a rooftop with a view of the entire city…. Ya…. I’ve had plenty of misadventures.
A lot has gone wrong this semester, but in a way I think that it’s beautiful. To be honest, the first few weeks I was here, I hated Madrid. I thought the city was absolutely horrible. My first couple of months here were an absolute train wreck. I felt like I could not do a single thing right. It was almost pathetic. But I would probably call this entire semester one big beautiful misadventure.
My best misadventure has to be this weekend however, when my friends and I went to Mallorca (or Majorca… however you want to spell it)… and had the bright idea to turn our last minute, rainy island adventure into a road trip. Ok just to preface, no I typically do not go about breaking the law and hanging around in high risk situations, but when you are a college kid trying to save some money you have to make some compromises… like fitting 6 people into a 5-person rental car that you’re 3 years to young to rent anyway…. Let me tell you it is a fabulous
The experience without question was 110% worth it and will be a trip that I remember for the rest of my life. It was a weekend of going with the misadventures and turning them into something great:
Our first misadventure came when we all decided to check out the nightlife of the island and go to a club, but after a day of exploring and traveling all fell asleep at 10 pm (not unusual for me)… it was completely worth it.
Our second misadventure came when we were forced to boil water in a pot for washing because we had no hot water in our AirBnb… probably not as worth it.
Our third misadventure came when we decided to check out a beach. Everything was amazing until out of nowhere a cloud came and started hailing on us during our beautiful coastal hike. I shit you not. Hail… as in balls of ice pelting us from the sky… on an island. We ultimately took refuge in a cave, which happened to also be the designated “pee cave” of the quick little hike. It was interesting to say the least… undoubtedly worth it.
The final and greatest “misadventure” of the weekend came when we decided to drive down a dirt road in the general direction of the coast to get one last glimpse at a beach. When we finally reached the fence of the farm that we had to hike across to reach the coast it was painfully clear that we would be making the trek back (of undetermined distance) in the dark. It ended up getting dark about 5 minutes into our hike and we just kept telling ourselves “5 more minutes and we’ll hit the water!” Lying to ourselves paid off: Even though I was muddy, freezing, and soaked through, the view of the ocean in the moonlight at the last red rays of sunlight were leaving the sky is without question one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. So beautiful, I thought it would be a good idea to go swimming in the freezing water. Crazy misadventure? Yes. Completely worth it? Yes.
The best part of the weekend: I broke my phone (again) and my watch battery died leaving me with absolutely no sense of time all weekend, just living off how I feel, and to be honest I’m tempted to wait a few more days before I fix this problem because it’s been an amazing experience.
So I need to address something. It’s been on my mind for quite some time interrupting my thoughts, and no I’m not talking about Adele’s new smash hit Hello. I’m talking about the consistent disgruntled rumblings of my stomach. The moans and groans of my inner piping as it pleads with me to please, for the love of all things bright and beautiful, stuff myself with something that isn’t bread. Just. One. Time.
Yes, my friends, I am what you might call “vegan hippie scum.” I do not eat anything that comes from an animal: meat, eggs, milk, you name it. This is typically not something I tell people about, or remind those who are close to me of, or tell my waiter 800 times because let’s be honest… vegans are annoying. It’s not how I self identify or my “fun fact” and is usually a point of humor amongst my friends. However, in this post…. I’m going to complain… just a little.
When I came to Madrid I did realize that it was the jamón capital of the world, but I didn’t expect it to be anti-vegan. I mean come on… I’m from Texas where if you can shoot it, you can eat it. However, in Spain I’m having an even harder time finding nourishment that isn’t carbs.
Don’t get me wrong, this country has the most beautiful fruits and veggies I have ever seen, even in the cheap little grocery store by my apartment. I have endless quantities of cheap olive oils and lentils and almond milk! And don’t even get me started on the olives. God bless Spanish olives. However, that is in fact the extent of my diet: olives, apples, olive oil, lentils, and bread. Lots and lots of bread. Order a sandwich? Here’s a side of bread. Oh… you know what would go really well with that beer (aka liquid bread). Yup you guessed it, an entire baguette.
At home, one can experience somewhat of a hiatus from the carb overload, but eating out, especially in a smaller, less touristy town? Forget about it… bring your fat pants because you have a one-way ticket to bloat bay my friend. Not to say that there is anything wrong with this, actually, the first few times you stuff yourself with an entire meal of bread it’s wildly rewarding to loosen your belt an extra notch… but 3 months later… Well I’m all out of notches.
To be perfectly honest, going out to eat in New York is a challenge pricewise, but at least I know what I’m getting myself into. Don’t get me wrong, the people of Spain as I have said time and time again are absolutely lovely. But I’m sorry. Chicken is not a vegetable. I take no offense to the cured pig legs hanging from the ceilings of quite literally every building in this city, in fact they have quite an appealing aesthetic quality. However, when I order a “bocadillo vegetal” (vegetable sandwich) and ask if there is meat in it… please excuse me pounding my head on the table as a take a bite into a hidden chicken breast.
However, not all is lost. I did have the amazing discovery that here in Madrid their mayonnaise doesn’t have any eggs in it because of their health regulations. I have no idea why they can’t put eggs in their mayo, but I do know that it means it is fair game to me. To sum up my Spanish culinary experience: I came hating mayo, I’m going to leave worshiping it for being the only food that swings my way. Mayo=aioli and aioli=patatas bravas for days. YAY FOR CARBS.
“I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards” is perhaps the most powerful quote, in my opinion from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. The story, told from the perspective of none other than Orwell himself, recounts his experience as a soldier fighting during the Spanish Civil War. He fought for the Republican side of the conflict (a bit confusing as the political parties here are flipped from the American political scale), and the side that ultimately lost to General Francisco Franco and the nationalist—a defeat that would change the political history of Spain to a dictatorship until only a little over 40 years ago.
I’m certain that if you’ve read my past posts, you know that I love to make really horrible cheesy puns and jokes that probably only I find amusing, however I fell like this week’s post, due to the nature of the novel is cause to be a bit more mature and reflective. As the story is a factual account of Orwell’s time in the militia it gets pretty real at points, for example when he is shot through the next and doesn’t receive medical attention for about a week. This kind of material was not exactly what I was expecting when I picked up the book, however I’m really pleased I read it.
Orwell writes about the Spain I learn about in class: a time of political and social divide, anarchy, oppression, urban centers, rural farms, industrial regions, and most of all national pride. While, fortunately, the Spain which I experience today is absolutely no where near the conditions of what Orwell and other soldiers during the Civil War (this was the 30s by the way) I can still see hints of it as I explore the city. Today, there is no running through louse infested trenches, dodging bullets, shooting at fascists, or starving for lack of resources, but there remains a strong sense of national pride, especially regionally in the Basque Country and Catalonia where Orwell did most of his fighting.
I’m sure you’ve heard in the news about Catalonia trying to become an independent, autonomous country, separate from Spain. The national pride that you see when you travel to Barcelona is incredible and sounds very similar to what Orwell describes: the people in Las Ramblas with flags, singing songs… it sounds like the day of an FC Barcelona game (which I have yet to go to I want to wrap up by going back to the first quote I used in this post: “I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards.” In my personal experience Spain has not been evil, but yes at times it hasn’t been the best. Classes have been grueling and I’ve had to work through some personal problems in my hunt for happiness abroad. However, the people of this country are so welcoming and open and helpful. Whenever you’re lost or need a recommendation just ask a random Spaniard—in all seriousness they are so nice it’s a little unnerving! Something I have to remind myself when I think “should I have gone to Berlin, or Sydney, or just stayed in New York?” Is perfectly summed up by Orwell when he goes on to say, “I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!”
I have to admit that when I first made the trek (via metro of course) out to Madrid’s Matadero… I was not thrilled. It was midterms week so I had two essays and a test the following day. Yet, my internship seminar was taking a class trip to some place called Matadero Madrid to ride bikes? I was less than happy about it. However, what we experienced made it all worth while.
A little about Matadero Madrid: basically it’s a slaughterhouse turned art center. Now look, I’m all for repurposing space and what not… but slaughterhouses are gross places of death. The only other times I’ve been in a reconverted slaughterhouse fit this “gross places of death” theme: in the middle of nowhere Texas, there’s a slaughterhouse turned haunted house and of course the fabulous clubs of NYC’s Meatpacking District.
As I rolled up to our meeting, I had absolutely no problems finding the massive space made up of a complex of pavilions. While this restored space was visually stunning with all of the art halls, cinemas, creative spaces… I was still annoyed about missing three hours of valuable study time, but then, after nearly crashing into a wall when the seat fell off my bike, I began to see the beauty of this space.
Miles of park stretch out over land that I learned only 10 years ago was a massive highway. When the slaughterhouse closed in the late 90s the city council tried to come up with a way to create a space for community and innovation. The parks are intended to appeal to every age group with bridges that are true works of art stretching over the river with musicians and artists posted up drawing inspiration from the scenery…and the new mega mall under construction on the other side of the park. An old man picks a random fruit from a tree (that allegedly tastes horrible) because he claims it helps his arthritis… why not? And my class, lead by our professor is riding around like a biker gang taking it all in. My professor told us about the parks built for teenagers to be spaces to hang out, keeping them out of the parking lots drinking, doing drugs, and other hoodlum things young angst filled almost-adults get up to. As the sun set we peddled back to the entrance of Matadero and explored the buildings.
As we walked past the bars and restaurants we couldn’t help but comment on how cool it was that they had a red carpet down the walk way… It made you really feel like a celebrity! Then we looked up and saw Will Arnett (who I would say it at least a solid B-lister) and realized we were in fact on a red carpet. We had accidently stumbled upon the Netflix Spain launch party (yes, we now have Netflix… yes, my grades reflect it). But I think this just shows what kind of place this is.
In New York City, we converted our Meatpacking District into chic clubs, bars, and designer stores where you can go out all night and do nothing but spend money… lots of money. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that use of space, but it’s kind of beautiful that Matadero Madrid has created a community space for visual arts, literature, performing arts, film, music, design, and landscape. It’s an innovative space full of artistic and cultural inspiration that just keeps developing. I definitely recommend a trip there just to ride a bike, grab a drink, and watch as some kids practice a strange interpretive dance.
So I think that New York has spoiled me. Actually, I know that New York has spoiled me. Growing up in the ‘burbs of Dallas, Texas, my exposure included Nike shorts and football season shirts (cowboy hats/boots were reserved for special events… such as prom)—when I came to the big city, it was immediately clear that everything I knew was, in fact, not fashion (not that I didn’t already know this, but it was a nice confirmation that what was considered “cool” in my high school is in fact considered “what not to wear” in the rest of the world). After being in New York and adopting the all black fashion sense of a commuter, I remember nervously packing in August, wondering what the hell people in Madrid wore: would it be a culture shock just like it was when I moved to the big apple?
Absolutely not. I’m not saying that I’m some serious styleista—but I do read Refinery 29 at least once a week and follow Jeremy Scott on Instagram so… ya I know fashion. Therefore, when I showed up to Madrid I realized that people here just dressed “normal”. The Madrileño style really isn’t any different than style all in any other big city in the world. Also, I’ve noticed that style varies from barrio to barrio—where I live, it just happens to not really be a concern. However, go to areas like Calle Serrano(aka the 5th Ave, of Madrid) or Malasaña,(the city’s “little Brooklyn”), and you will find styles unique to the area.
Walking down Serrano, the storefronts hit your wallet like a slap to the face. Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Chloé, Armani, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Lanvin, Prada, Mont Blanc, and Cartier are all there to please the elite and further jeopardize the study abroad student’s wallet. Women of a certain age strut down the street in furs like The Golden Mile is their runway. The best part: I saw the first fur the first day the temperature dipped below 70 degrees. It’s not for warmth. It’s for fashion. I go down runs down this street as a sort of motivation—I run faster so I can go back and work on my LinkedIn to hopefully one-day score a job that makes over minimum wage. I hope one day to look like the grannies of Calle Serrano who look like a beautiful marriage of Golden Girls and Project Runway.
Then you have Malasaña the opposite side of the fashion spectrum: couture meets las calles. Anyone that has meandered through Brooklyn or stepped into an Urban Outfitters is very familiar with the “I-saw-this-on-a-homeless-man-and-thought-OMG-CUTE” look. Jeans filled with holes, black stocking caps, flannel shirts (always tied around the waist or layered over a shirt) and old sneakers—usually intentionally scuffed up to add to the aesthetic can be seen on all the 20 to 30 something year olds posing in front of the soft grunge street art or snapping a picture of their oat milk latte for Instagram. My people.
I love Madrid. I love it’s eclectic style. I love it’s lack of style. I love that no matter what you’re wearing, you can go somewhere in the city and instantly be in style. This is the charm of a big city. Just as not all New Yorker’s wear black on black on black the stereotypical image of all women in Madrid wearing their Flamenco gear and carrying their lace fans through the streets on a warm fall day just isn’t true. While this would be awesome, I have yet to see anyone in Flamenco garb. However, I have seen a few lace fans and am presently on the hunt for one myself… if you know where I may get one please let me know.
You may recall my tale of the week I lost my phone. Not to sound dramatic… but I can safely say I lost all contact with the outside world. I had no phone alarm, and thus missed my flight to Valencia that weekend. Of course, this was fine because I would have lost money anyway as the airline charged 50 euros to print boarding passes rather than use the handy digital boarding pass one can download via their app. I was unable to contact my friend, who had taken the train to Valencia the night before to tell her that I would have to take the bus to meet up with her at our gorgeous AirBnb we had booked two weeks before, using an app. Once I finally negotiated my bus ticket, without my handy Spanish translation app, and took a 5 hour bus ride next to a girl blasting her Spanish Rap Spotify playlist on repeat… which I also didn’t have. Once I arrived in Valencia everything was great… for about the 5 minutes it took me to realize that I had no idea how to get to the AirBnb as I was, of course, without the lifesaver known as google maps. Worst of all, without my phone I couldn’t even post on Instagram, twitter, and facebook about how shitty a day I had been having…This is about the time I realized that the modern human race is doomed.
With some simple human interaction, I was able to talk my way to the square nearby our AirBnb where I luckily ran into my roommate. Despite the serious breakdown I experienced while I suffered technological withdrawals, all in all it was a fabulous weekend. I even have the pics to prove it.
This week I stumbled upon an article written for the Huffington Post by Dan Crane titled, “When Instagram Culture Ruins a Vacation.” I have to say, while our weekend wasn’t ruined by Instagram culture…. it was definitely shaped by it. Actually, all of my vacations for the past 3 years have revolved around taking the pic that will garner the most likes from people who will comment super deep things that really add to mu cultural experience such as “OMG MISS YOU GURL :)”, “LOVE—looks fun!”, “<3”, “ily”, “#goals”, “*flame emoji*”, or my personal favorite “YAAAAAAS QUEEN”… Is this really how intelligent beings speak now? Ok, this isn’t to say that I’m like an advanced version of our species and I would never succumb to using emoji’s like actual written text… no. I throw out the heart eyes emojis as liberally as Rihanna throws out $100 bills at a strip club. My point is that, we have become obsessed with getting and sharing these meaningless phrases and being on vacation is the perfect opportunity to take a #tbt that will cause your 500 closest friends and followers make envious comments hidden behind the thin veil of emoji speak.
On my trip to Valencia, my friend and I had one SIM cardless phone between the two of us which we switched off ownership of to snap “candid” pictures that were just about as candid as the action seen on The Hills. Just like Dan Crane mentions in his article, we just had to snap to “Obligatory beach selfie” among the hordes of other people snapchatting, facebooking, instagraming, and tweeting out just how much fun they’re having on vacation.
But are we really having fun? Are we really gaining any kind of cultural experience from this kind of social media slavery fueled by new technology which everyone can carry in their pockets? We have an idea of a fantasy vacation based off of what our #ManCrushMondays and #WomanCrushWednesdays post but rather than actually living out this fantasy… we just try to capture it on a screen.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected when I picked up Earnest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but the image of Spain that I was met with in the novel is not the one that I have come to know over the past month or so. The story, told from the perspective of Jake Barnes—a World War I veteran living in Paris while writing for a newspaper— recounts the travels of the protagonist and his self indulgent squad who have enough drama surrounding them to rival that of Taylor Swift’s. His crew is comprised of an unlikely bunch including, but not limited to: Robert Cohn, an unsuccessful writer who has never felt love and proof that graduating from Princeton does not guarantee a happy future, and Lady Brett Ashley, a beautiful (according to LITERALLY EVERY MAN THIS NOVEL) British divorcee who uses the terms ‘darling’ and ‘rot’ a disturbing number of times throughout the story.
Amongst tales of lost loves, affairs, and fishing trips, the gang decides to head to Spain: a location becomes the center of passion is the novel. For example, the main romantic tension comes from when Cohn falls in love with none other than Brett (surprise) and takes her on a rendezvous to San Sebastian, a resort town in the North of Spain that I am planning on visiting in the coming weeks (I’ll let you know if the city inspires any romantic passion within my soul). Brett however just isn’t that into Cohn and is actually engaged to a guy named Mike who, thanks to the fabulous and always accessible Spanish wine, is drunk 92% of the time.
So, let’s recap… so far in Spain we have: passion, romance, wine… and bulls. The meat of the narrative centers around Jake and company traveling to Pamplona, another Spanish town, in which they attend a week long fiesta and see the running of the bulls. There is a brief moment however before the image of Spain turns into an eroticized and exoticized bundle of bullfights, alcohol, and sex in which Jake and one of his friends Bill go fishing in a small village appreciating the natural beauty of Spain, but this is over in just two or three chapters.
During the week long fiesta with the carefree Spaniards, Brett has a fling with a bull-fighter 14 years her minor named Pedro Romero, he represents the purity and honesty of Spain amidst all of the partying and passion of the weeklong fiesta. However, he is not pure enough to escape the over sexualized Spanish stereotype and his tight green matador pants are mentioned at least 4 times in the dialogue. However, their love affair is short lived and becomes a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” tale…in fact Spain is a lot like Vegas in Hemingway’s portrayal of it. In Chapter 15 he says, “The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during fiesta.” Perhaps this explanation could work for me should I decide to party all weekend rather than assume any of my responsibilities? It’s simply the magic of Spain.
All of this is not to say that it is a bad novel in the slightest, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (with the exception of nearly every time Brett spoke, but that is for completely unrelated reasons). That being said, and while I’m quite sure that were Pedro Romero a real person he would be the cutest matador ever and would in fact rock his Peter Pan-esque green tights, there is an unnecessary eroticization of Spanish Culture. I found the the book reduced the country to bulls, booze, and babes. This is an image of Spain that we have discussed in my Cultural History of Spain course that is entirely created for a touristic appeal, which is completely valid: many times when people travel to this country that is unfortunately all they come for—and that’s not to blame Hemingway, it has been happening for a very long time.
It’s easy to romanticize travel. All the stories that I tell my friends or post make life sound much more exciting then it is. The truth is though, that I choose to show about 20% of what happens in my daily life. So now, for the first time ever, I will reveal to you my average Madrid Monday: everyone’s favorite day of the week.
7:00 am – My alarm beeps. I press snooze.
7:15 am – My alarm beeps. I press snooze.
7:30 am – My alarm beeps. I drag myself out of bed and brush my teeth. I get back in bed.
8:00 am – My alarm beeps. This time I remember that I have an assignment due tomorrow and I need to get going ASAP. I push some dirty clothes to the side of my little room in our apartment. Turning on some music, I do a quick yoga flow, that has steadily decreased from 30 to 20 to 15 and now to 5 minutes as the work load has increased.
8:15 am – I go into our kitchen and open the bright red cabinets scavenging for food. My diet in Madrid is disturbingly carb heavy so typically, this is avocado toast or a piece of fruit. Exciting stuff.
8:25 am – I throw in a load of Laundry for a quick 30-minute wash and when it’s done hang it outside on the line connected to our neighbor’s window, never failing to make painfully awkward eye contact with one of them as they close their window to block out the squeaking pulley as I hang up my clothes.
8:30 am – For the next hour I scramble to do as much work as possible before class on Tuesday, trying to recover from my traveling and procrastination over the weekend, but get pulled in by Facebook, Pinterest, Buzzfeed, and most recently… LinkedIn (this is when you know you have a serious procrastination problem). At least there’s no Netflix in Spain to distract me.
9:30 am – I grab my purse, laptop, and keys as I throw on some sort of outfit to hurry off to my internship. These next thirty minutes are indubitably the best part of the day. I walk through the Parque de Berlin, watching all the moms and their trainers doing synchronized squats and past the fountain with pieces of the Berlin Wall to begin the uphill walk to Sapos y Princesas.
10:00 am—I buzz into the apartment-turned-office-space of my internship, take my seat and start working on an infographic, coloring pages, or a new web banner for the children’s activities website.
11:00 am – For the next four hours I’ll have my coworkers ask me loads of rapid-fire questions about my weekend, New York, Texas, or my favorite TV shows. All in Spanish. While I know they’re just trying to help me learn the language, I spend most of my time observing the reactions of the others to decide if it’s a joke, and whether or not a laugh will be a sufficient response. However, I do learn a new swear word a day, which is nice because my classes don’t tend to improve my “Street Spanish”.
3:00 pm – At lunch the other intern from NYU and I usually hide in the kitchen and get in at least a half hour of English trying to decipher the previous conversation.
3:30 pm – I go back to my AM routine of working, being asked a question, laughing and conversing like a 5 year old idiot with fully grown adults.
6:00 pm – Time to go back home. This walk is much less exciting than my morning walk and typically goes at a much slower pace because going home means one of two things… home work or a run.
6:45 pm – During my walk I decide that I can do neither my homework or my run without eating first and am in the local supermarket buying some more wine and avocados (they’re delicious and ridiculously cheap here).
7:30 pm – I decide its getting kind of late and… oh is that a cloud?… it could rain so I probably should put off my run until tomorrow and just go to the coffee shop ~with Free WiFi ~ (I’m ALWAYS on the hunt for free WiFi. It’s less of a commodity here than in America). When I get there I’ll start my homework… but first I’ll watch one episode of American Horror Story (with Spanish subtitles to practice of course)
12:00 pm – How did it get so late?
12:30 pm – Time to start my work and get ready for class on Tuesday morning.
This week’s post was intended to be about a calm, leisurely stroll I took this week where I roamed the streets of Madrid, taking in each new corner as though it were a breath of fresh air. Stopping at every store front to ogling at the marbled ham hanging from the ceilings, or admire the work of a local street painter creating tiny, hand made masterpieces. That was the plan… until I was robbed.
I know, I know. They tell at orientation that you have x% chance of getting robbed and it will most happen in a club. I didn’t pay much attention because I am not what you would call an avid clubber. However, this week I have been working on finishing my rational. As I had been going for 7 hours straight because, you know… procrastination…. I thought I deserved to take the night off and meet my friends at Joy Eslava: the most touristy, trashy club in the city. I knew this… but was desperate for a break. Long story short… I had my phone and 5 minutes later it was taken out of my purse…while I was wearing it…packed on the dance floor like sardines in a can.
Now that the back story is over, I’m going to tell you about my hurried, flustered, stroll through the streets of Madrid the following day as I looked for a police station, much like the one pictured above, to meet my friend and report our phones stolen. Oh ya… did I tell you that 30 minutes before her phone was stolen in the same club? … Any way, the nonexistent police station google maps recommended was supposed to be just a block away from Real Madrid’s Bernabéu Stadium. I had yet to see it so I thought “Silver lining… at least I can do some sightseeing on the way.”
When you pass NYU Madrid’s campus and continue down the hill, there is no way you could possibly miss Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Amidst the quaint buildings of Madrid, the structure looms like a huge beast over it’s land… A huge beast that in only enterable with a ticket that, as a college student, costs roughly as much as your right arm… or two textbooks.
The area surrounding the Stadium was so busy although there was no game going on, tourists and maintenance men were everywhere admiring the stadium just as much as I was. I passed a restaurant called “La Esquina” with the smells of sautéed onions wafting out the door and my heart/stomach (for there isn’t much distinction between the two) longed for the tacos at “La Esquina” on Lafayette St in NYC… then I heard a phone ring and was reminded of my mission.
I strolled on, sweating now because of just how briskly I was strolling… and saw a sign that read “Policía.” “Great!” I thought, “almost there.” But I wasn’t you see, I would never really reach the Police Station, because it had closed earlier this year and they had never taken down the road signs. Confused, I strolled around above ground for about 20 minutes until I dipped in to the conveniently located “T.G.I Fridays” and asked the strip- red-tied waitress who looked like she was having just as fabulous a leisurely day as I was, “Dondé está la estación de Policía?” I found out that it was only to be reached by walking down into the parking garage..the parking garage lined with the seedy underground clubs with people still trying to keep the party going from the night before as their neon lights flickered. But not for me. The party was over.
Tragically, when I “strolled” up in front of the police station the windows were barred, the lights were off, and there was a padlock the size of Texas on the door. Disappointed, I strolled (dragging my feet) back home, knowing I was never to see my phone again.
…Then my roommate reminded me it is in fact 2015 and I could just call the police to report stolen property.
UPDATE FROM LAST WEEK’S POST: For any of you interested, you may remember that last week I mentioned a cute nose-ring wearing hipster barista? Well, we exchanged numbers recently and have been WhatsApping (is that a verb?) ever since… well at least until my phone was stolen….
It’s difficult for me to choose a time within the last three weeks where the language barrier has made me feel like a “near-idiot.” For you see…. There are just so many time this has happened. Just like any Pre-Med student—thinking they are already a doctor, and dishing out health advice to their friends like they are WebMd—I, as a Spanish minor, assumed that I had mastered the Spanish language. This was, of course, an incorrect assumption.
Luckily, I have yet to have a mortifying an encounter as my mom did in Barcelona the time she decided to whip out her Rosetta Stone skills to tell our waiter that my family was “taking a prostitute back to England tomorrow” (she meant to say boat… but now I’m sure that the Spanish government has us marked as prostitute smugglers). That being said, my many run ins with the language barrier have been cringe inducing to say the least. The number of blank stares, “¿Qué?’s” and people just defaulting to English when they hear my horrible accent after I ask them a question in Spanish have all become part of my daily routine in Madrid.
For you, I’ve narrowed this post down to my top two favorite idiot abroad stories that I’ve experienced in Spain so far: the time that I become an unintentional racist, and the timed that I was cockblocked by the language barrier.
It was the second or third night in Madrid and I was trying my hardest to hang with a new crew of kids I met in the Madrid program. We all went out for tapas and drinks—very low key, very casual and very little Spanish required. I was ready to hit the streets of Spain and peacock: impress my peers with my proficiency in the Spanish language. Everything was going swimmingly. I had ordered food, drinks, gotten directions, and paid for food, and then… then I got cocky.
So here’s the thing… in Spain, as I’m sure you’re aware they have a very particular accent in which the speaker has a sort of lisp on certain consonants. For example, if someone was named “Ignacio,” he would introduce himself as “Ig-na-thio”. While reading the following story, keep in mind that I really really wanted to learn this and become as Spanish as possible. We were at a bar, and I was asking the bartender in Spanish, how much a drink cost, I thought my Spanish sounded perfect at this point because all day I had been repeating back what waiters had said to me in order to perfect my Spanish accent. Obviously, I butchered when I asked her, because she answered back 4.50, in English soaked in a Spanish accent. I of course, still repeating back everything I’m told respond “faur-feef-tee?” copying her accent perfectly… she was not amused. Daniel however (who also has a blog featured on this site shout out to him) has not let me forget this and never fails to remind me of my blunder.
The second story is a sad one, right out the pages of a bad romantic comedy. There’s this barista right? Very Brooklyn, I’m talking flannels everyday. Anyway he also happens to be really really ridiculously good looking so my friend and I on our second run in with him decide to chat him up so to speak—however, he speaks no English. In my desperate attempt to flirt I tried to tell him that I like his nosering. Obviously, in the class room we never learned advanced flirting Spanish vocabulary or how to say nosering so I said “ Me gusta el anillo en tu naríz,” which directly translates to “I like the ring [as in ring on your finger] in your nose.” Smooth right? I thought so. Until I saw his confused face… and then he responded, “Oh mi piercing?” Of course the word for piercing would be the same. All I could do was laugh like an idiot, grab my drink, and scurry away. Foiled.
This is a story of love, grace, & inspiration. This is the story of how one day I was lost in a new city—Madrid—when Sergio Ramos (#4 Real Madrid for you fútbol fans) rode up on his Moped to rescue me from being forever adrift in the clutches of these maze like streets and we journeyed off without a care in the world… yes… just like in the Lizzie McGuire movie.
Ok so obviously this never happened. I was actually saved by a grungy, old, waterless fountain in the middle of a round-about. In the center, a wonderful pod of stone dolphins jump in the air, their beige fins glistening in the sun. If that isn’t beautiful description enough please consult the following photograph… majestic, no?
So you may be wondering how I came to feel such an emotion connection to these particular porpoises. Well I really enjoy running, especially in a new city—it’s helpful in terms of orienting yourself. I thought that running around to build my own mental map of the city would be a great idea because it worked so well in New York. However, about 30 minutes into my first running expedition it became painfully obvious that this was not the case.
You may recall that previously I described the streets of Madrid as “a pot of noodles dumped on the floor”? I can now say with certainty that this is accurate. You see… when running in New York I use a “Sesame Street” methodology of navigation: if you get lost, just follow the numbers as they get bigger or smaller until you’re home. In Madrid however, the skills you learned from Count von Count can’t save you.
On the day of my first run, sweat was running in my eyes and I could feel the sun beating down, my farmers tan getting sexier by the second. Eventually, I thought I would just turn around and go straight home. I had stuck on the same road not making any turns the entire time. Easy right? Wrong. After running 30 more minutes in what I thought was the way home recognized nothing.
Now if in NYC I was confronted with this predicament, it would be no problem: just run two blocks in any direction and hit the nearest Starbucks—hop on that free Wi-Fi, google maps a route, and even take a quick bathroom break. Here however, there is no Starbucks on every corner, no free Wi-Fi, and let me tell you… you sure as hell better use the toilet before you leave home.
I was lost. I made the decision to just keep going until I saw something that I vaguely recognized. I was “running” my way up hill thinking how great it would be to do a series of “Naked & Afraid” where people are dropped off in a city where they don’t know the language and have no navigational devices to help them roam the streets, when I saw it, my shining North Star: the Dolphin Fountain. I remembered it from the very beginning of my run and it meant one thing: I was 10 minutes away from sanctuary. Now, whenever I’m on my way back after a long run, I search for these dolphins as a beacon of hope… a promise that the end is in sight.
Solnit quotes Thoreau saying: “Lose the whole world, get lost in it, and find your soul.” This was not my intention when I first embarked on my run that faithful day, nor do I necessarily believe that I found my soul in the stony lifeless eyes of these dolphins. However, I do believe this whole experience of being lost in terms of place, language, and culture has helped me to learn a bit about my self and my situation in the world. I feel as though I’ve found my porpoise. *bu-dum-ching*
When I boarded the plane to Madrid, I was filled with all sorts of anxieties: Did I pack too much? How well do I actually know Spanish? How is my über high-maintenance American digestive system going to manage Spanish cuisine? For the entire duration of the 8 hour 56 minute flight from Dallas these thoughts bounced around in my head.
As the plane “smoothly” touched down at the Madrid airport, I realized that it was far too late to do anything about all of these thoughts and whatever will be will be. (***bonus, in Spanish that’s “qué será, será”… Shout out to my dad for being a grade-A shower singer) There was no turning back now.
Let me fill you in on a secret, before I left everyone asked me if I was nervous to leave. Of course I answered no every time, but this was absolutely false. One of my greatest fears regarding study abroad was that I didn’t want to become desensitized to exploration after being in Europe for 4 months. I love traveling and I worried that it could become mundane at a point. However, I think Pico Ayer makes a very clever remark in saying that when we travel, “we surround ourselves with what we can’t understand, it’s like being a child again.” This one phrase explains exactly how I feel: my concern of banality of travel has evaporated over the past 5 days thanks to the amazing people I’ve met, the great food, the “not-in-a-million-years-would-this-drink-be-that-cheap-in-NYC” prices, and the most generous locals you could hope to meet. Look out, because I’m running around this gorgeous city like a kid in a candy store.
Speaking of kids and candy… my first night in the city a precious older woman—I’m talking the stereotypical Granny-type here—walked up to me as I was opening the door to our apartment building and immediately began speaking Spanish at 99 miles per hour. As I clung on to my catch phrases, “pues 1,” “más despacio por favor2 ,” and “Bueno3,” as my only lifeline in conversation, I somehow miraculously managed to relay to her that I am a 20 year old student from NYU who is studying Graphic Design and had been in Spain all of 12 hours. She replied with a heartwarming smile and told me not to worry that I wasn’t that great at speaking Spanish, I had plenty of time to learn. She then proceeded to tell me that she preferred to call me Maria over my real name, Maggie, and as she lived on the floor above me, with a charming twinkle in her eye said “mi cocina es tu cocina.” I melted into a puddle on the floor—the people of Madrid had been so kind and welcoming.
I later found out from the program director that the twinkle in this sweet woman’s eye was less like that of Santa Claus and more closely related to the twinkle the witch that lured Hansel and Gretel in with her promise of delicious candy. Apparently the older local women tend to get excited when new young people move in as it gives them a whole new source of gossip. However, despite her dinner invite being a way to get all up in our business, I’m sure my roommates and myself will be breaking bread with her at some point in the future. The people of Madrid definitely know what good food is.
So maybe at this point I’m too trusting, but I honestly feel as though the city has opened up it’s arms to me and I don’t see it breaking my heart anytime in the near future. Yes, it will take some time adjusting to its particular “charms” —like not eating dinner until 9 at the earliest, or all the shops being closed from 3 to 5, right after I finish class, or a road system that looks like it was inspired by a pot of noodles dumped on the floor (seriously why isn’t every city set up in a grid?!). All joking aside however, I honestly think that these are all so minor and in the next few weeks I’ll have fall into the Madrid routine. Who knows how well it will go. If it’s good what a story, if it’s bad… well that sucks. It’s all part of the adventure.
- “More slowly, please”
- “I’m not putting a translation here as I believe everyone should have eaten at Taco Bueno at some point in their lives. It is in fact better than Taco Bell.”