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Friday, August 13, 2010

Letters from an Anonymous Friend - Letters from Spain, Part 1

Catedral Salamanca

This is the first of a series from an anonymous friend of mine. We've been friends for over ten years, since we first met at Ricks College as roommates. We have a lot in common and I think that is what has kept us friends for so long. Although we do share things in common, we also chose different life paths--I got married after a 4 month courtship, had kids, never finished college, and chose to be a stay-at-home-mom while she has graduated college, traveled the world, learned multiple languages, taken a job as a babysitter for 13 year olds junior high teacher, and is now getting her major. In something...I just can't remember what. That's what kids do to you--make you senile. In college we came up with Spanish names for each other: Mine is Pioja and hers is Gozosa (a feminine blend of her name). I'll let you figure out on your own what "Pioja" means. So without further adieu, here's a letter from my anonymous friend.

¡Hola mi querida pioja!

¿Cómo estás? I’m so glad we got to chat the other night. I needed a taste of home and conversations with you always leave me rolling my eyes, snickering, with my jaw dropped, with something new to think about, or all of the above. When I come home, though, there will be an adjustment… just like when you leave Texas, there’s always a culture adjustment.

The last 4 weeks have been so long, but they have been full and progressive. My classes are evolution of the Spanish language, Spanish literature, Spanish history in the 20th century, Grammar (blah!), history of Salamanca (the city I’m in), Spanish popular culture, Spanish cinema, and various method lectures (100% in Spanish). (Are you sensing a theme here?) Last week, I was in class and I realized that there was not one class that I did not find interesting (Grammar doesn’t count because as a Spanish teacher, you have to know it, but it’s getting better); unlike getting an associates or a bachelors degree, you don’t have to take all the general ed. classes before you enter your field of study. You sign up for the program, jump through whatever hoops they put in front of you and bam! There you are sitting half a world away listing to your grammar teacher pound into your head the different between using the present subjunctive tense and the imperfect subjunctive tense.

When classes began the first day, I wanted to crawl into a corner and hide because everything was so intimidating, from attending an almost 800 year old university to teachers speaking 100% Castillian (Spanish) very quickly to 70% of my classmates being native Spanish speakers already; it was inexpressibly intimidating! I’m so lucky I had found a group of people to be with; we met a couple of days before school started and just kind of stuck together (we’re mostly gringos; Americans, by the way, are referred to in Spain as yankis). We helped each other through that first week and now everything is old hat; we’ve fallen into our places and we got each other’s back.

The amount of material we cover each day in class is unreasonable in any other situation, but since we only have 5 weeks in which to cram 180 hours of theory, history, linguistics, grammar, literature, cinema, culture, excursions, (not to mention an extra cinema class worth 3 credits towards our degree), etc., we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Like Nike promotes, Just Do It.

And it’s wonderful, amazing, and fantastic, and grueling, tiresome, and exhausting at the same time. Never have I wanted to fall asleep in class so often each morning, not because it’s boring, but because I literally struggle to keep my eyes open; I’m not kidding, some days I’ll fidget around for the sole purpose of maintaining consciousness.

My normal bedtime on school nights is midnight (a little early in mainstream Spanish culture) and I get up at 6 and put in a full day of walking, classes, walking, studying, more classes, more walking, studying and homework, and then trying to do basic things like take a shower or check e-mail. This honestly is my daily schedule and I think that everyone in this program is absolutely insane for killing themselves like this (myself included!).

But (and it’s a big butt!) where else would we have the opportunity to study Spanish in the mother country? Every day we walk down cobblestone streets that can only fit a tin-can-Eurpean-size-car going one way, passing buildings that have been around longer than the United States has been a nation, and we see the Catedral Nueva (built in the early 1500’s; it’s new compared to the old one built a few centuries earlier) before we go to classes. The Río Tormes flows now just as it did when the Romans built their bridge (which is still used for foot traffic) over it 2,000 years ago. Nearby the Catedral is the building in which Dictator Francisco Franco stayed for awhile during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and around various corners are 500 year old convents and churches that are still well used today by the Salamantinos. And the Plaza! The Plaza Mayor is the jewel of the city, especially when it lights up at night and shines, making night life possible within its walls. Without a doubt, the Plaza is the place to see. There are restaurants all the way around the interior walls that are the perfect place to sit and have a drink and while away the afternoon (or evening); and between the restaurants are various stores that sell souvenirs, overpriced purses and clothes, lottery tickets, newspapers, postcards, (don’t forget the internet cafes!), and delicious, mouth watering helado (ice cream!). That’s just the ground floor. The floors above are hotels, hostals, more restaurants, private residences (that pay an arm and a leg to live there). And once the sun goes down, there are people there all the time!

People are there all the time! (Yes, I meant to repeat myself.) And at night, certain members of the departments of the University of Salamanca come out, dressed up, with various musical instruments and sing for everyone! They go around from table to table at the outside restaurants and sing; they take requests; shoot, they’ll even sing to you if you ask them too! And they sound absolutely marvelous.

I know I’m painting a pretty picture from a tourist/foreign perspective, but I’m well aware of the uglier side of things. Take, for example, the graffiti everywhere. Not so much on historic buildings as on regular, more modern buildings. It’s mostly stupid stuff, like people’s names or just nothing at all, but there are some political messages, like anti-taurismo (anti-bull fighting) and other social thoughts or suggestions. Also, and this usually comes with tourism, there are beggars; some of them are believable, some of them not so much. Some of them verbally ask for money, some try to sell pencils while you’re sitting and eating outside; some sit near the ATM machines while others circle the Plaza and its surrounding streets with their palm open and moaning for a sandwich and coffee, please, because they’re hungry. You have to decide what to make of each one...

Part Two coming later...

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Stacie said...

Reminds me of the time I spent studying in Florence. Walking the same streets as Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, among others (and I'm talking about the painters, not the turtles) gave me chills, sister, Chills!

Foursons said...

Wow, sounds fascinating! Not my cup of tea for sure but for someone with the desires to do what she is doing, it is the chance of a lifetime.

Feel free to link this to my Letters of Intent if you like. :)

Screwed Up Texan said...

stacie, sounds wonderful to me! I've always wanted to visit far away lands...but I'm afraid to leave the North American continent--Ha! My husband says I am wierd...he's probably right!

Foursons, I went ahead and added it to your letter of intent theme. Thanks!

Robert said...

Please thank your friend for sharing a little bit of her wonderful experience in Spain, at one of the oldest universities in the world. I took my first spanish class in a portable building at Mountain View in oak cliff. :) Christopher Columbus never lectured at Mountain View Jr. College, like he once did at Salamanca.
Ir de pincho's? :)

Foursons said...

Thanks for linking up girly! Maybe you'll get a new follower out of it. :)

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