Who knew that study abroad goes by so fast? I feel like just yesterday it was only the middle of October and I had plenty of time to travel and try new things. Luckily, I still have the Spring semester here in Madrid to make sure I fit in everything that I want to do and couldn’t fit in this semester.
While the program had our farewell dinner last week, it was still hard to imagine saying goodbye to everyone. Many of my friends are also staying the academic year, but almost all of us are traveling for the holidays. I am excited to welcome the new students coming for the Spring, but it’s still hard to picture NYU Madrid without the people who are here now, especially since the majority of my classmates weren’t even from NYU. I hope that the connections that I’ve made with some of the visiting students last.
I think that the most rewarding experience this semester were the professors that I was able to take classes with. All of them were so amazingly qualified, and while they had a lot of policies and rules to follow from administration, they still managed to make class fun and engaging. In fact, one professor even invited my friend and I over to her family’s Christmas eve dinner since she’s knows we’ll be in Madrid. Another offered to write my a Graduate School recommendation whenever I needed it. The fact that nearly all of my professors also teach at Spanish universities is also really amazing, and I’m still in shock with the prestige that some of my professors have (and that I didn’t even know about until now…)
Furthermore, I really enjoyed having to blog for this course, because I really liked having a frame of mind to think about my study abroad experiences. I have been failing miserably at journaling, and my journal has turned into a scrapbook of everything I’ve collected on my travels (train tickets, maps, etc.), but keeping a permanent record of my writings and my experiences will definitely be amazing to look back on whenever I miss Madrid. There isn’t a ton of reflective writing in the courses here, so being given that outlet and having deadlines has helped me to preserve a lot of memories and ideas that I may have otherwise forgotten.
Madrid is a very complex city, and Spain is country with a twisted history. I can honestly say I don’t think that there is anything like Madrid in the world, because it simply does not into any one mold. Its trying to modernize but also is stuck in traditions, the people are proud but concerned about what the world thinks, and the fact that you walk into a Foster’s Hollywood Burger restaurants, go down the stairs and happen upon an old door from the Muslim city of Madriz made in the 700’s is something that is just so Madrid.
While I wish that the NYU Madrid campus was more in the center of the city (if you think that it has one) rather than in the El Viso area where the Santiago Bernabeu is, I think that the current situation forces students to really go out and explore. Since we aren’t in the thick of it, we need to make time to explore Malasaña and Retiro. We’re forced to commit to integrating into the city rather than being stuck in a bubble on a campus somewhere.
Above all, I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to not only study and live in Madrid for one semester, but two. As I said, Madrid is so complicated and I’ve found it so hard to integrate, but I think that next semester I will be able to really feel like a madrileña.
Pues, ¡hasta luego!
Madrid is not too complex of a city for tourists- most of the tourist destinations are all within the central almond and thus generally no more than a 20 minute walk from each other. But to really adjust and acclimate to life in Madrid there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Siestas do not exist, but late lunch and dinner is real.
Madrid, like much of Spain, has evolved past the siesta as we know it- where everything shuts down from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM or 5:00 PM. Some stores still close, especially markets, but many stay open throughout the day. Yet do not expect to get lunch at 12:00 PM because people will just be ending their merienda, or mid-morning snack (which usually is an amazing pastry and a coffee or for some, a beer). An early lunch in Madrid is 2:00 PM. The same goes for dinner. Many of my favorite restaurants close from 4:00 PM until 8:00 PM, which is the equivalent of a 5:00 PM dinner back in the States. If you really want to blend the blend with the madrileños, try to eat around 9:30 PM.
Pro-tip for dinner: If the place is a “top” restaurant such as “top Italian” or “top Vietnamese” food in Madrid, make sure you make a reservation. Spaniards make plans late, but when they make plans, they lock it in.
2. Brush up on military time.
If its your first time leaving the country, it might come as a surprise that many other countries use military time, or the 24 hours clock, to differentiate between morning and afternoon. For instance, in Spain if you want to go to a movie and you’re looking at the times, 11:00 means 11:00 in the morning while 23:00 means 11:00 in the evening. Depending on how you’re communicating with someone, you should also specify. When I was looking for apartments for the Spring semester I would always indicate the time in military time, saying 16:00 instead of 4:00 PM. Even when talking to someone you may have to specify if you mean the evening or the morning, but it depends on the context.
Pro-tip for telling time: While the basic rule for military time is to simply subtract 12 from afternoon time (14:00-12= 2:00 PM), it helps to adjust if you switch your phone and electronics to the 24 hour clock. Very useful during those first few jet-lagged days.
3. The Gospel of Vale and No pasa nada
While Spaniards have the stereotype of being very passionate, loud and even blunt, they also have a very strange ability to be relaxed and flexible, especially when it comes to being punctual or things out of their control. The Gospel of Vale as I have dubbed it, is about saying vale, which is the equivalent of okay in Spain, just as often as a Spaniard would. While this seems complicated, it’s all about mastering the different intonations. There’s the sarcastic vale, the triple vale, and the ever-important questioning vale? It’s almost a lifestyle.
The second Gospel is of no pasa nada, which literally means, “nothing will happen”, but in the sense of “don’t worry about it”. Where would one hear this phrase? Well, if you need to break a 50 euro bill (which is all the ATM’s seem to give out), and you’re lucky enough to walk into a restaurant or store with a nice cashier or waiter (and you really need a lot of luck for that one) who will break your 50, you might get a “no pasa nada” after asking them. If someone accidently trips over you in the Metro, you can show off after they say “Disculpame” or “Perdoname” (both mean “excuse me”) by answering “no pasa nada”. It’s not as commonly used as vale, but it is one of the nuances that Spaniards would appreciate.
Pro-tip for Spanish nuances: If you really want to get fancy and fit in, you should learn how to fit in “joder” into everyday speech. While it doesn’t carry the same vulgarity as in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, it’s still not the nicest word to say. If you feel wrong saying “joder” as often as Spaniards do, I would suggest using what the elementary school kids use as a substitute: simply “jo” (pronounced “ho”), “jomama” or “jolines”.
Madrileños are very funny, and I can’t imagine studying anywhere else. As a general recommendation, I would suggest reading Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett before traveling to Spain for an extensive period of time. I read it this past summer, and it definitely gave me a general basis on Spanish culture as well as Spanish life. Most importantly, remember to keep an open mind when traveling in Madrid and all of Spain, vale?
This past Thanksgiving, or in Spanish Día de Acción de Gracias, was my first one ever away from home. Being from New Jersey, it’s never been hard for me to get home when I need to, and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to have some of those comfort foods that I’m used to- such as a real roasted turkey (we have no oven in our apartment), pumpkin pie (once again, no oven), homemade stuffing, etc.- really dampened the mood for me. Also, NYU Madrid, unfortunately, does not have the resources to provide us with any type of Thanksgiving dinner, and having to go to class on Thanksgiving honestly felt wrong.
My roommates and I decided to host our own Thanksgiving in our apartment, and since both of my roommates have intercambios, who are basically Spaniards who want to practice English with native English speakers, we invited them as well. In total, we had about 5 Spaniards come over to give thanks with us, along with 2 other girls from our program and ourselves; a total of 10 people in our decent sized apartment.
A week before we planned out our menu. It became a thing of multicultural beauty- bulgogi and rice to celebrate a Korean harvest festival in October, latkes and apple sauce because why not?, and of course the traditional American Thanksgiving goodies- sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing. All paired with some Spanish red wine.
While we had this whole feast planned out way ahead of time, no grocery shopping or cooking began until Wednesday very late in the evening. The only thing ready by Wednesday morning was one bowl of instant stuffing that we had tasted- a couple times. By early Thursday afternoon the question really became “Can we finish everything before guests arrive at 7?” The answer was no, we couldn’t.
At 7 P.M. on Thanksgiving, our first guests arrived with three cakes and two bottles of wine. The latkes, bulgogi and rice had just been plated. By the time our first Spanish guest arrived, we put him to work mashing the sweet potatoes and when the rest of our guests arrived, the turkey hadn’t even touched the stove. Since there is not an oven in our apartment, we had to pan-sear turkey breast that was seasoned with the appropriate Thanksgiving spices. I had to run out to buy plates and plastic silverware, and when I came in, the Spanish guests were cooking our turkey and washing our dishes, despite our protests.
By 8 P.M. all 10 of us were seated at our dining room table (which we extended with our kitchen table). The food was cooked and ready to eat, but first we all went around and said what we were thankful for. For the Spaniards, they were thankful for being able to celebrate their first Thanksgiving, and for the Americans, we were thankful to be abroad even though we all missed our families.
These past couple months abroad I have found it very hard to integrate into Spanish society even though I am a Spanish speaker. There just hasn’t been a proper opportunity for me to make that push, and I was not able to have an intercambio this semester so it certainly made things even harder. This Thanksgiving, however, I was able to break through the wall that was holding me back. It all clicked to me over our unconventional Thanksgiving. It’s completely cheesy- but I was more afraid of being judged for my Spanish than actual Spaniards. So with a little wine and some great food, I was able to finally speak to my peers in Spanish about real things- international politics, funny family stories, and the like. A true Thanksgiving miracle for me.
Even though I arrived in Madrid much earlier than my peers, I still met my landlord on the day I moved in- August 31st.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting; I had only received an email giving me his email and a phone number. Would he be that paranoid landlord that doesn’t allow any guests and vigilantly watches the water meter? Would he simply not care about us and just set us free into the urban jungle of Madrid? It was all a mystery.
So on the morning of August 31st, my mom, uncle and I hopped on to the cercanias– Madrid’s version the NJ Transit or the LIRR- then onto the Metro, lugged my giant suitcase up 4 flights of stairs out of the Metro station, and walked on down Ronda de Segovia to my new apartment. It was about 10:00 AM.
As I walk into through the portal, or main door, an elderly Spanish man greeted me, probably early to mid-70’s, with a slight paunch and a wide smile. He introduced himself as Carlos, and much to my luck, he is my landlord. As we entered the apartment, I learned that actually his wife, Sagrario, and him used to live in the apartment themselves, which explained a lot. Our living room has a teal corduroy sofa set, a tapestry and a showcase for the fine china that Carlos and Sagrario own. Sagrario was sitting on the couch and already explaining all about the apartment to my jet-lagged roommate.
After a brief explanation of the basics, Carlos and Sagrario left us to go back to their own house…just up the street. We figured that we would just see them to pay rent but otherwise there would always be that landlord-tenant relationship, and we certainly didn’t expect anything more than that, although we did note how kind they were to leave us with a fridge full of the basics- which in Spain is ham, milk, bread, and some fruit.
As October came around and it was time to pay rent, we set up a time to meet with them. We head out on the long trek (truly no more than 50 feet away) with full expectations of heading out again within 15 to 30 minutes. And there was no way that we could have been more wrong.
Almost immediately after entering the apartment we are welcomed by hugs, kisses, asked to sit on the very comfortable couches, offered cookies and lemonade, and interrogated about our lives so far in Madrid. There was no way to say no to the cookies- we found out that Sagrario makes them in the industrial oven in the house they own in her hometown outside of Toledo, or the lemonade, as it was also homemade by Sagrario. We spent hours talking about our families, their life story, eating too many cookies and eventually, paying our rent. Carlos and Sagrario officially welcomed us to the family.
They also kindly offered us another apartment that they own for the Spring 2015 semester, and we made a whole lunch out of it. For lunch, Carlos took us to the restaurant that he frequented as a high schooler called Casa Mingo- essentially the Spanish version of a luncheonette, but with one very key feature- sidra. This was my first experience with sidra, and I am clearly a fan as I explained in my last blog post regarding the sidra capital of Spain, Asturias. They proceeded to walk us around the neighborhood where the apartment is and we learned even more about them. For instance, the apartment is where Sagrario’s family moved when they moved to Madrid from her small town in Toledo. We passed the church where Carlos and Sagrario were married, as well as the one where the rest of Sagarario’s brothers and sisters were married, but I am still not sure exactly how many she has.
While we couldn’t take the apartment, we have become closer than ever with our landlords, who really are like our Spanish grandparents. They even bring us food sometimes. It so amazing how people who are strangers and that I have mainly a business relationship with have become the people that I go to for advice and just to vent about life- all while eating Sagrario’s amazing cookies.
When asked what Madrid’s genius loci are, it’s very hard to think of specific, concrete things. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Madrid is a fragmented city. It wasn’t built uniformly, but rather by having neighborhoods pop up and attach themselves to the central almond via public transportation. There isn’t one type of madrileño, one type smell or even its own drink that inherently belongs to Madrid.
The one thing that does unite nearly every madrileño is the idea that everyone has their own pueblo where their families and ancestors come from. This weekend I was able to visit one of Spain’s smaller cities, Oviedo, that truly has a genius locus of its own.
Oviedo, the capital of the autonomous community of Asturias, has a population of about 225,089 people but it feels much smaller. To put that in comparison has a population of 3.2 million. Asturias is one of the northern most communities in Spain and Oviedo was founded in 761 by two Visigoth monks. Due to this, the city retains many medieval structures and unlike almost every other region of Spain, is completely devoid of the Muslim influence from Al-Andalus. The Kingdom of Asturias was founded when the Christian Visigoths of the north fought off the Muslim conquest, and because the area wasn’t very valuable to the Muslims, they simply let it be. It was one of the only autonomous kingdoms and thus one of the oldest, as it was founded in 720- only 9 years after the founding of Al-Andalus by the Muslims.
But besides the medieval architecture, what is the genius locus of Oviedo? Well the most famous one is its unique (in Spanish terms) beverage: sidra. We Americans know it as hard apple cider. The cider is dry- completely natural. To pour it properly is a science. As I watched our waiter pour cider in the middle of the street about 30 minutes before my bus left for Madrid, I was mesmerized. He looked straight ahead with the bottle high over his right shoulder and held the glass at the height of his thigh. As the sparkling drink begins to flow from the bottle, the waiter continues to stare straight ahead, not caring to look if it reaches the glass. It misses and he moves the glass into the stream, without looking of course. He proceeded to pour exactly like this 3 more times (until my friend and I finished the bottle). Directly after pouring a glass, and truly it was no more than a gulp in a glass, he would hand it to us. And as per Asturian tradition, we had to empty our fresh glasses of sidra as fast as possible.
But why such ceremony for a weak, cheap drink? It is legitimately science. Pouring the sidra from such a height and with a straight body allows the chemical bonds of the drink to break, releasing aromas and creates a frothy appearance for the 3 seconds it stays in the glass. And to top it all off, once you open a bottle, you have to finish it. Sidra oxidizes quickly, making it flat and the taste changes.
On any night, sidra can be seen flowing down Calle Gascona, where the main sidrerias, or cider houses, in Oviedo can be found, and the aroma can be smelled to the point of taste from the second you turn onto the street. It is truly the genius locus of Oviedo, as every Asturian is proud of their refreshing, bubbling drink. While the effervesce of the sidra may quickly disappear after being poured, the magical process of being served and drinking sidra lasts a lifetime, making Oviedo and Asturias a place that is hard to forget.