Friday, February 26, 2010

Saved by the...Jesús?

As many of you know, I am very routine-oriented. I like structure, I like being prepared, I like having deadlines. I use my planner more than anyone I know, except maybe my Mom. Sure, I can be spontaneous and I like to party (yes, Jamie, I'm using your catch phrase), but I do really love being organized. Which is why I'm glad that today marks the end of my second week of being an official student at la Universidad de Sevilla. I'm finally getting my routine down.

A typical day of mine goes as follows:

-Wake up at around 10. Eat two slices of bread with olive oil on top and sometimes with garlic. (Sounds nasty, but is actually really good. The garlic I save for certain days, since it doesn't really help the breath situation.)

-Walk or Sevici (the communal bike service here) to either my program center or the tobacco factory. Yes, all of my university classes are held in an old tobacco factory, the same one where the opera of Carmen unfolded in real life. It is a pretty but incredibly confusing building. The set-up isn't too bad for me, however, considering three out of four of my classes are in the same room. Aula XX (Classroom 20) and I are going to be very, very good friends.

[The road I take to get to school.]

-Listen to spanish professors talk for two hours straight, understand about 70% of what's going on (depending on the class) and try to make friends. Realize I look incredibly American with my rain jacket and Sperry's. (It WOULD be raining here while it's nice and sunny in Oregon. Perfecto.)

-Eat my sandwich or return home for lunch, depending on the day. If I have time at home, take a siesta or do some homework before my next class.

-Finish class and go to the gym. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have a group exercise class, a mixture of step/dancing/arm weights/abs. It's a learn-as-you-go kind of thing, and I'm happy to report that my ability to follow along has greatly improved since the failure of coordination that was my first class.

-Eat dinner at around 8:30 or 9 with Chantel and Chencha while watching 'Pasapalabra' on TV. Do homework, skype with people that I love, and go to bed. Wake up and repeat.

So, that's my routine in a simplified nutshell. There are random and unplanned moments in there as well, don't get me wrong. But mostly, I will be following this schedule every week, Monday through Thursday. (Yes, for the first time in the history of my schooling, I don't have class on Friday. Whoop whoop!) The classes I'm taking are:

-Regional Geography of Europe
-Climate and Society
-History of Slavery in America
-Conservation and Management of Space and Natural Resources

Classes are going well so far, although they are extremely different from those in the US. The other day, the power went out halfway through my Climate and Society lecture, obviously hindering the powerpoint presentation my professor had prepared. But instead of making us wait for the power to turn back on or coming up with another activity for us to do, she just shrugged and said 'Ok, well I'll see you all next week.' The following day, I showed up ready for class, only to find out that there was an assembly going on for the Spanish students, and so class was canceled. No one had mentioned anything about this before, even though it was obviously a planned event. Such is the Spanish way, I guess.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that my classes don't have value. I have a group presentation already due on Thursday, and I'm still not quite sure as to what it entails. When the professor first announced this project, I was immediately nervous about finding a group. Who wants an exchange student who wears weird clothes and can't understand everything in their group? I was anxiously contemplating this when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find the boy sitting next to me asking me, "¿Quieres ser parte de en nuestro grupo?" In my head I yelled joyously, "YES! YES I WANT TO BE IN YOUR GROUP! CAN'T YOU SEE THAT I HAVE NO FRIENDS? YAY!" But I kept my cool, and replied, "Si, claro." (Yes, of course.) Success! So, who was this boy who had saved me from certain embarrassment by kindly inviting me to his group? What was his name?

"Como te llamas?" I asked.
"Jesús," He responded.

Jesus. Well, that's appropriate.

So now I'm in a group with Jesús, Juan José, and Clara. And like all of the rest of my education here, I have no real idea what to expect when I meet with them next week. All I can say is, let's hope I've got some more Jesúses in the rest of my classes...

Monday, February 22, 2010

"De nada", says Granada

As part of my program, we take 'cultural trips' to other cities around Spain to enrich our understanding of this country. So far we have visited Madrid, Cadiz, and Córdoba. Last Friday, we added Granada to the list.

Actually, the University of Michigan has a program located in Granada, which I immediately crossed off the list when I first thought about applying to study abroad. Since Granada was the last city in Spain to be occupied by Muslims before the Christian re-conquest, it has a heavy Moorish influence on art architecture, something I thought I didn't enjoy. I was wrong.

Granada is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. From the moment we saw the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance, I was in awe of the city and all it offered. As I have mentioned previously, Spain (and Europe in general) lacks a lot of natural areas, and so Granada was a much appreciated change of pace.

It was a two day trip, and we had nothing planned for the first day, so we decided to do what we do best: eat. I, however, was feeling a bit sick, and so spent my day watching everyone else eat. Joy. Anyways, we visited the oldest Tapas bar in Granada, where you order a drink and get paella (a rice, vegetable, and meat combo typical of Spain) for free, which I would have appreciated more, had I been able to take advantage. This is actually a common offer in all of Granada, and I wish Sevilla would follow suit.

The rest of the day passed by uneventfully until Chantel, Melissa, and I decided to wander into a chocolatería (chocolate store), where I would be once again subjected to the wonderful pastime of watching other people eat. After seeing the delicious-looking pictures of crepes outside the store, they didn't hesitate to order two: one with strawberries and the other with chocolate. We sat down, and began talking. Some time passed, and I asked out loud what was taking so long, since not many people were stuffing their faces with desserts at 4 in the afternoon. And that's when I saw a gigantic plate filled with crepey goodness being topped off with a mountain of whip cream. Literally, a mountain. In a David After Dentist-like state I asked "Can that be real?" (Use this link if you have no idea what I'm talking about: And it was. Even after removing a napkin's full of the cream, there was enough left to spill out of the sides as Chantel rolled hers into a burrito-like shape. Like I said, gi-nor-mous.

Sunday, our group traveled to La Alhambra, the main attraction that Granada boasts. Literally translated, "the red one," La Alhambra is the citadel and palace made in the 14th century by the Moorish rulers of that time. It's situated at the top of a hill, functionally for protection and symbolically to represent power. Because of its high altitude, you are able to see the entire city of Granada spread underneath, and then the Sierra Nevadas on the side. Our group stopped at one particular hallway for awhile, just to take in the incredible landscape. I don't even think the painter guy with the gray affro on PBS could have captured it... (Someone tell me they remember him!)

Besides the views, La Alhambra has beautiful architecture and gardens. After the Christian take-over, the original Moorish decoration was altered or removed, making it have a combined Christian and Moorish influence. Walking through the hallways, fountains, and rooms, I kicked myself for making such a haste judgement about Moorish art, since it truly is gorgeous. No offense, but the Christian art paled in comparison. My eyes never tired of looking at the intricate ornateness of it all.

My favorite thing (and the one I remember the best) I learned about La Alhambra was a story that our tour guide told us. There is a Cypress tree in one of the gardens that is held in place by an iron piece, since it is long dead. Underneath this tree, Sultana Zoraya, one of the wives of the king, would meet her lover in secrecy. The king found out about her infidelity, and since Sultana Zoraya was his favorite wife, he was just not going to take this. (At this point I would like to interject my feminist opposition to the king...notice how she was his favorite, and not only, wife. Yeah, not cool.) So, he decided to invite all of the men in the family he suspected held his wife's lover to a party. Instead of trying to discover which specific one it was, however, he got impatient and just killed them all. Obviously, a great guy. Anyways, now the people of Granada say that the brown spots on some of the fountains/gardens are the blood stains from the killed men. Which is obviously not true, but still adds a bit of a haunted house feeling to the place.

Overall, it was a wonderful weekend in Giant-crepe-and-moorish-art-a-go-go land. Definitely my favorite so far. So thanks Granada, for being so flippin' sweet. (Its answer is the blog title...)

Sunday, February 14, 2010


That's right! I was a tree! Not only did this match my title as "The Environmental One" among my friends, but it was also the cheapest option, seeing as I only had to buy the circular plastic bush that later would be placed on my head. Why this globe of plastic leaves was even created in the first place is beyond me...

So Carnaval is a crazy, crazy place. Imagine thousands of people, all dressed up in costumes, just socializing in the streets. We saw heart suckers, clergymen, chickens, sperm, race car drivers, Avatars, bulls, girl scouts, devils, angels, rabbits, and some that were just plain unidentifiable. For example, what ARE these things?:

The streets are packed with all of these characters, and everyone's talking and laughing and having a great time. There's nothing much to do except walk around, take pictures of great costumes, and make new friends. My costume was pretty popular, although a lot of people thought I was either a Chia pet or a bonsai tree. (Hence the title of this blog...try screaming BONSAI in a spanish accent to get the full effect of what I kept hearing all night.) People kept touching my leaves, so I got a lot of practice saying 'Be careful! It's fragile!" in Spanish. It was worth it, however, when I won the costume contest with the tourism group that we traveled with. Now, I get to travel to Gibraltar for free, just for wearing a cheap fake bush on my head! Awesome.

We got home from Cadiz at around 5 am (still very early for Spaniards) and then biked home after discovering that all of the taxis in Sevilla were occupied. Rocío spent the weekend here again, and we woke up to her tap-dancing in the kitchen at 2:15 pm. Although it was a bit of a rough wake-up call, I was excited to see that she had written us a note and put it under our door. She had drawn Chantel and I in our costumes and had written underneath:

"Dear Chantel and Lyndsay:
I like that you and Lyndsay wake up because I want that. ¿You like the carnaval and I want look the fotos. ¿OK? ¡Good morning! Love Rocío"

After reading that, I couldn't be mad.

Overall, Carnaval was a success. A very fun weekend to bring in the start of classes at la Universidad tomorrow. My schedule isn't completely finalized yet, but when it is, I'll let you all know what I'm taking.

And finally, HAPPY VALENTINES DAY! Know that I'm thinking about all of you, even though I'm more than 4,000 miles away.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

'Tiana y el sapo' y el autobús

Several important things have happened this week. Let's catch you all up:

1. Our 'Seminario cultural' class ended. Actually, it will be officially over once we turn in our corrected essays next Thursday. But for simplicity's sake, let's just say its done.

2. Actual classes at the MCP center started. I've decided to only take one class at our center, and four at la Universidad. I feel like this will give me a more authentic experience here, and also allow me to make more Spanish friends. The class I'm taking at the center is Taller de escritura creativa (Creative Writing). Watch out Pablo Neruda, I'm about to write some beautiful Spanish poetry.

3. We celebrated Nate's (a boy in our program) 21st birthday this week by going to La carbonería. The only thing I can think of to compare it to would be the House of Blues, but with a more relaxed, local feel. Musicians come and give free concerts, and usually go on to be famous. I was surprised we were all able to find it; it's located on a curvy, narrow street near the center of the city and doesn't even have a sign outside, which actually of makes it cooler. We all ordered 'Agua de Sevilla,' which is a drink that has whip cream on top. ¡Delicioso! After, we went to a discoteca where Nate and I subsequently had a very American dance competition. (I'll say that he won because it was his birthday, but next time...)

[Me, Allie, Khemi, and Melissa enjoying our Agua de Sevilla.]

4. I received a package from my family on Monday (thanks guys!), containing 4 chocolate bars and about 20 mini twix bars. Four twix bars remain...

5. Chantel's friend, Lindsey, came to visit from Barcelona. Thursday night we went out to a bar in 'La alameda de Hércules' , literally translated, the Tree-lined Avenue of Hercules. This name is ironic because there are no trees there. We visited this very cool bar that was void of any other Americans (something that we try to look for wherever we can). Lindsey doesn't speak very much Spanish, her program is English-based, and so we were all speaking English. A man came over and in slightly tipsy Spanish told us to stand up and mingle with the rest of the people at the bar. We attempted to explain to him that we had a visitor that didn't speak Spanish, but to no avail. It turns out he was French, and a jerk. At one point, he tried to tell us that all American girls are the same. We weren't about to take that kind of treatment, so we peaced out of there en poco tiempo.

I think the coolest thing that has happened this week, so far, occurred last night. Melissa, Gayle, Haley and I decided to see our first movie in a Spanish theater, and chose "Tiana y el sapo." You can find the trailer here: All three of them live in Nervión, which is a completely different neighborhood on the other side of the river, meaning that I had to take the bus. While waiting for it to arrive, a girl came up and asked me if I knew when the next C2 was coming, the same bus I needed. I explained that I wasn't from here and had no idea, which sparked our 30 minute conversation that lasted until she told me that I needed to get off. We talked about cultural differences, the high rate of unemployment in Spain, why theaters here have assigned seats (to try to stop people from sneaking into other movies), and how she is afraid of flying. I even asked her how young people do stuff here, since they all live at home. She laughed pretty hard at that, and told me that people pay for hotels! Either that, or they call their boyfriends/girlfriends as soon as their parents leave. If they're really desperate, dark parks. Needless to say, PDA is very, very common here.

Tonight we're going to Cadiz for Carnaval, which is like New Orlean's Mardi Gras and Halloween combined. Costumes are a must, and my friends and I have prepared well. Channy is a nerd, Melissa is a devil, Gayle is the night sky, and Haley is a lamp. Chencha and Rocío helped me with my costume last night, but I'm going to keep it a secret until my next blog, because without pictures, it sounds lame. I guess you'll just have to check back soon...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chencha-isms and Rocío

(Dear Lacey, I finally wrote another blog. Happy now? Love, Lyndsay)

Living with a 65 year old Spanish woman is definitely an experience. (I would have included my 45 year old brother in that statement, but he's rarely here, so he doesn't really count.) I'm not sure if its the age or the Spanish, but Chencha has her opinions, and is not afraid to impart her wisdom upon Chantel and me. Things I have learned thus far:

1. Eating shrimp will make you prettier.
2. Running as exercise will make your veins contract into balls.
3. Eating salad after the meal, rather than before, protects your stomach and your food. (From what, she didn't specify.)
4. If you want to not get fat, you should walk. Actually, you should dance. Dancing is the absolute best way to exercise.
5. There's always more space in your stomach for an orange.
6. Oranges also improve your appearance.
7. Olive oil is God's gift to this earth.

Needless to say, Chantel and I are soaking up these new truths without a hint of hesitation.

Last weekend, the other God's gift to the Earth came to visit: Chencha's granddaughter Rocío. In reality, Chencha has three grandchildren, Rocío and two boys, Ivan and Leo, but its clear who's the favorite. Rocío is a spunky 10 year old with a Cindy Crawford-esque mole on her left cheek who is not afraid to correct me every time I mispronounce the word "Euro." Which was a lot, considering on Saturday morning we went to the "mercadillo."

Literally translated, "mercadillo" means little market. In reality, its more like a gigantic flea market of possibly stolen goods. I say possibly because the origin of the multitude of shoes, bags, clothes, toys, and other general crap remains unknown. Looking past this sketchiness, the market was a very cool and slightly overwhelming experience. Imagine hundreds of spaniards, speaking and yelling in rapid Spanish, trying to get you to buy things that are "¡DE MODA Y CUALIDAD!" (fashionable and high quality) At one point, a man was trying to persuade me to buy a rather ugly dress for 15 euro (21 US dollars) by saying "You're an American, you're all rich!" I was pumped that I could actually understand him, and replied, "No, that's a myth" and walked away, secretly doing a victory dance for completing my first Spanish come-back with a local.

Rocío loved the market. Like I said, she's a ten year old, and as such, possesses some incredibly tacky taste. She is drawn to anything that is outrageously shiny, excessively furry, wildly metallic, overly embellished, or remotely associated with Hannah Montana. And even though I had to pretend I thought everything she showed me was 'muy guay' (very cool) with a lot of enthusiasm, she made me feel like less of an outsider, and more like family.

[Rocío and I trying on hats at the mercadillo.]

That night at dinner, Chencha and Rocío were arguing about food (Rocío is MUCH more comfortable refusing food from Chencha than Chantel and I, for obvious reasons), while Chantel and I sat awkwardly across from them and intently stared at our soups. After a heated debate with fervent spanish arm waving from both sides, Rocío looked at her grandma and asked in a small voice '¿Besito?' (little kiss?) And while I watched them hug and kiss on the cheek, I suddenly realized that Chencha is a grandma, just like mine. For all of the things that she says to us, and for all of the food that she makes us eat, in that moment, I wouldn't have been able to tell her apart from my either of my grandmas. She spoils Rocío, secretly gives her sweets, and wants the best for her, just like my family does for me. It can be hard living with her, its true, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter that she's from a different culture. Things like family and love don't change with language; they can translate and be understood no matter where you go in the world. All I just needed a little trip from a 10 year old to remember that. Gracias, Rocío.