LIVING IN SPAIN: INITIAL THOUGHTS/LIFE THUS FAR – and just as my semester abroad is coming to a close…here are some of my initial thoughts upon moving to Sevilla, Spain
p.1 Getting to Spain, then getting to Seville
I woke up at 4am on January 12. I dragged my single parcel of luggage down every step of our wooden staircase. 14 clunks later I kissed mom and sis goodbye and slinked out to dad’s car. A 6am flight, an 8-hour layover at Chicago O’hare and an 8-hour international, middle-seat flight later, I landed in Madrid, Spain.
I got semi-settled into a nice but uncomfortably sterile hotel room, pried off the tightly tucked bed sheets, took a nap on the bed closest to the window and woke up to the arrival of my roommate plus her three suitcases.
Molly and I got along great from the get go. Our group spent two days in Madrid and then headed south for Toledo. We sat together on the 4-hour bus ride in identical hunched over positions as last night’s mojitos mosh pitted against the walls of our bellies. Three days in and we already endured a most divine struggle together. What a pair.
Getting off the bus in Toledo was magical. Half because of the stunning views, half because of the miraculous way the fresh air settled my nausea.
It’s a quaint cluster of stone nestled in rolling hills of lush green land circled by a glistening river. It’s beautiful, historic and incomprehensibly old. Moorish influence weaves through ancient architecture that has stood longer than anything we have in the states. Everything on the hill looked preserved, untouched. I half expected to see the people that built it roaming around when we got over there.
We stopped at a church in Toledo and were herded into a small room. On the side opposite the door hung an original El Greco painting. Once our 20 or so person group crowded in, I found myself standing about 10 feet from the painting. I don’t know how to describe it, as it wasn’t the most beautiful or the most intricate…but it was definitely the most stunning artwork I ever saw. “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.”
The last night in Toledo consisted of Molly and I eating like queens at the hippest restaurant I’ve ever been to. She ended up getting a giant burger with toppings stacked high between a big bun and I ordered a Cubano that came with a sunny side up egg smack in the middle – think toad in the hole with thick cut ham waiting just below.
Sidenote: Two days later I attempted to order two Cuba Libres – an attempt to act like I knew something – and whilst trying to play it cool, I ordered Molly and I two Cubanos at a small bar tucked beside the river. The waiter looked at us perplexed and Molly jumped in to save me. That rum and coke – with Ron Barcelo – was my first drink in Sevilla: less expensive and with more alcohol than anything I’d ever had.
After Molly and I scarfed down our handfuls of sandwiches, we decided to roam around the cobblestone streets of Toledo’s “el centro”. We ended up circling the entire scoop of stone three or more times and racking up some 21,000 steps after 10PM.
The next day went as follows: an early wakeup call, a suitcase-crowded elevator ride, an uncoordinated shuffle to the bus, a few hours to a gas station, a giant chocolate bar, a few more hours to a fancy truck stop, a yogurt for lunch and an early afternoon arrival in Seville, Spain.
p.2: Meeting host mom, Trini
When the bus stopped, there was a big group of middle-aged and older Spanish women standing on the sidewalk. We de-bused and snagged our bags as one of our directors started rattling off names and their host families. First Manolo called an American’s name, then the name of the host mom. All the Americans smiled shyly at the sound of their name or took a small step forward amidst the sea of suitcases and the host moms responded with grins, scurries toward their gringos, hugs and kisses on both cheeks – right then left.
Molly and I waited. I think we were both trying to look calm, but we weren’t. My brain fluttered nervously: I was praying to make a good first impression and had my fingers crossed that my post-bus ride hair wasn’t too scary. I was shuffling through Spanish vocabulary in my head, rehearsing something to say to my new mama de españa.
She walked right up to us and grabbed two of Molly’s four suitcases. She had a fast pace to go along with what seemed like the fastest tongue I’d ever heard. Trini. We walked over a bridge and down a street teeming with people. We weaved through a few sidestreets and within fifteen or so minutes we got to her quaint, three-story abode. There are two doors – the first is thick and wooden and the second is like an iron gate about five feet behind the first. The first little square space inside her house is encased in textured, colorful ceramics. All three floors boast colorfully patterned tiles. Trini mops them weekly – usually on Tuesdays, the same day she washes the laundry and hangs it up to dry. I think Tuesdays are for tidying in Triana. On my 9:45am Tuesday walks to school, I always see suds splashed on the ground outside every few doorways.
The barrio (neighborhood) we live in – Triana – is actually known for its ceramics. Young people, old people and families churn the vibrant culture of the neighborhood. On Sundays people Calle San Jacinto, the stairs by the bridge, the sunny spot by the river and the market and compliment the warm air with loud conversations punctuated by laughs and sips of beer.
p.3: The language barrier (for better/for worse)
I don’t know if it’s because Molly and I are just hilarious, but I have laughed more while abroad than any other time in my life. And I laugh a lot in general (on three separate occasions two Spaniards and a German have commented on how much I laugh). But, being in a country with a foreign language breeds a rare hilarity. Speaking, conversing, thinking, ordering a coffee…these are all second nature: things we take advantage of in our home country. On the one hand, stumbling through conversations is frustrating and rehearsing your coffee order is stressful. But on the other, definitely more dominant hand, being a foreigner is hilarious.
Sidenote: The Spanish verb to laugh is reír: ” We laugh everyday” is “Nos reímos cada día”
Mixing up your words, speaking slower than everyone, having to focus with every inch of your brain. It doesn’t seem very funny, and I find myself clenching my fists every now and then, wishing I had five more semesters of Spanish under my belt.
But scenarios like these make up for all the frustration 110%…
One night Moll and I decided to start on a bottle of Cava before dinner. At dinner I realized I didn’t have a glass for water, so I asked Trini for one – “puedo tener una copa?” I was excited to ask because Trini had been quizzing me on kitchen words all week. Trini shrugged her shoulders and walked out of the kitchen and Molly looked at me confused, but I thought nothing of it. I was too proud of my sentence. Then Trini came back with a wine glass and we all burst into laughter. She said she assumed I meant “vaso” – the word for a regular glass – but then she remembered hearing the Cava pop…
Another time I got a text from Davíd, this dude from Seville. I was trying to explain to Trini that I’m keeping ties with him (ties which I ended up SLICING) so I can steal his motorcycle one day but midsentence I forgot the word for motorcycle. This shouldn’t be hard to understand: “Quiero montar su…” translates directly to “I want to ride his…” followed by a long pause which, of course, was followed by a long outburst of laughter. I did manage to spit out “bicicleta” ten minutes later, which was still wrong, but she understood.
She understood. Molly understood. I have never been so grateful for two people in my life. They always understand.
p.4: “Poco a poco”
There is a perfect proportion of words I do know and a desperate question of “como se dice _ en espanol (how do I say _ in Spanish)” for Molly. And she always has an answer. Or when frustration is seeping out of my pores, she just takes the reins of my speech and completes my sentence for me. I am forever grateful to have a roommate who’s not just fluent, but also patient.
I have never met a person so aware during conversation, who always knows what is being said, what I was trying to say, what I didn’t mean to say. That takes a heightened sense of listening, especially in a different language: to be able to hear, digest, comprehend, translate and respond all within the normal pace of conversation.
And then there’s Trini, who deserves a title much more than “host mom.” Aside from making my bed, doing my laundry and feeding me, she always reminds me to be calm. Whenever my words start tripping over one another and my speech gets knotted up, “tranquila, tranquila,” she says. Trini always encourages me to speak. Whenever I start stuttering, she tells me to finish the thought and afterwards she shows me how to say it correctly. She also encourages me to have a few drinks before speaking Spanish because I always sound way better, and she’s right.
My first week with Trini, she started telling me “poco a poco”, “little by little.” And it has become a holy reminder. Whenever I start trying to conquer the entire Spanish language – be it in a single conversation or while studying for an exam – these words echo.
p.5: To absorb the moment or crave the next? Both.
I didn’t come here with low expectations. I came with wild excitement and high-set sights. But my experiences, the university, the city, my mom and Molly exceeded those drastically. My time here has been well spent. I’m clinging to every moment, trying to savor it entirely before going on to the next – whatever next that is.
The next acquaintance (I’ve met a guy from Holland, three musketeers from Germany, a handful of Spaniards, a British girl living in Sevilla, my art teacher from Lawrence, Kansas, two kids from Kansas City, 20+ Americans including a girl transferring to ASU next semester)
The next place (Since moving to Sevilla I’ve hit Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Cadiz, Barcelona and Ronda in Spain, Lisbon and Evora in Portugal, Roma in Italy…)
The next taste (I’ve tried eel, Spanish anchovies, peas with a sunnyside-up egg on top, a caipirinha from Portugal, absinthe, a fried Mars Bar flaming absinthe shots…)
The next experience (I’ve missed a bus out of Granada, gotten free shots from a bartender that swore he knew me, tanned on the roof with my host mom, napped beside the river, eaten a chocolate covered waffle at 3AM and a potato-stick covered bocadillo, gotten yelled at by Trini for barfing in my bed (I didn’t barf, I spilled a bowl of granola…), a ferry boat from Wales to Ireland, a concert in London…)