Thursday, August 7, 2014

Breaking up with Madrid

Monday Aug 4

Dear Madrid,
We've been together for 2 ½ months now, and I've fallen in love with you. I love the quiet corners of your Parque del Retiro, the majesty of your architecture, the reverence I've felt while immersed in the art of your Prado. I mostly love your people. I love their sense of humor, their deep voices, rising intonation, and the friction in their pronunciation. I love their kindness to strangers and their willingness to love and accept foreigners. Yet, it's time we go our separate ways.

You are the heart of Spain, and your heart is what you've given me. Through you I trekked the Camino de Santiago, I fell in love with the genius and inspiration of Gaudi. I met Velazquez, Goya, Zurzurban and Rubens in person. I observed el Greco in his natural habitat. I walked the “path” of Don Quijote. I toured your castles, and swam in your beaches. I ate your food and learned your language. We progressed from strangers to lovers on our journey together, and I will never forget you.

You even introduced me to your neighbor where I gawked in awe at the majesty of her Pyrenees and I loved her cheeses and chocolates. I became reacquainted with her language and built new and strengthened old relationships.

I've learned so much from you, and I hope that in some small way, you're different because of me. I hope this will not be goodbye forever, but that we can remain friends. I hope to return to you again someday. So, as your people say, not adiós, but hasta luego. Or shall I say “ahta luogo.” ;)

Different Lives

One of the interesting things about living in a foreign country is that you can, in a sense, become part of a different world. It's fun to be something different for a time.

Most of the countries I'd lived in previous to Spain, were third world. It's definitely different going into a living situation like the ones I've had there knowing that you're American and that you're going back home to carpet and running water and flushing toilets. But it still gave me the opportunity to have a taste of what it feels like to live in 3rd world conditions. Granted, I never felt the despair that comes from not knowing if your family would have enough to eat, but I do know what it's like to live without a lot of the “necessities” of an American life.

In Spain I rented my apartment from a family that has quite a bit of money. But other than them, most of my friends here I met at church. My church friends were mostly South American immigrants who come here to work. And then a few Americans who have lives similar to mine, and were just in Spain for a time to work or study.

Having friends from different social classes gave me the chance to experience little tastes of what life is like in various classes, just in my one stay in Spain.

Class 1: Upper class, Spanish
Susana, the woman I rented from owns an apartment in Madrid that was orignally 3 separate apartments. She's had them remodeled so that it feels like a fairly roomy house. Which feels especially large in a European. She has two large bedrooms, 3 big bathrooms, two living areas, an entry way, and a kitchen and dining area. It's quite comfortable. Her family also owns two apartments they rent out (my little studio, and a two-bedroom flat that goes for 3 times what I paid), her mom has an apartment, and they own a house outside of the city (their summer home, because it's much cooler there than downtown Madrid. The house is probably at least 2200 sq ft. It has 4 bedrooms, a kitchen, a laundry room, a dining room, three sitting rooms (the turned the garage into another room), and 3 bathrooms. The master suite is really nice, completely as luxurious as a nice American home. The decour is very contemporary and European. They also have a pool and a big yard. And they have a car. It's usually parked when they're in the city, but they use it to go to their summer home and to go on trips.

Anyway, since I've become good friends with Susana and her twin daughters since I've been here, I've been able to live in their class. Susana took me to a party with her a few weeks ago. It felt like I'd stepped back in time. It was what I imagine it would have been like for my grandparents' generation to go to a nice gathering with friends. The occasion was someone's birthday. The guests mostly knew each other from going to school together in the city, and some of them had known each other almost their whole lives. From what I gathered they'd gone to private schools.

When Susana invited me, she was sure to mention that it was a backyard BBQ so I shouldn't worry about dressing up. Luckily I've spent enough time outside the US to know that doesn't mean you should wear jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. I wore a sundress and was glad I did. I'd say the attire was the American version of business casual: the men wore slacks and collared shirts, and the women wore dresses, nice pants and blouses or skirts and blouses. They all wore jewelry, most of it matchy-matchy too (I failed in that category).

Everyone brought gifts or wine. The spread of food included little crustless triangle sandwiches filled with cream cheeses and pates, little grilled veggie sandwiches on baguettes, a light potato salad (actually Russian), some little skewers of well-season chicken alternating with onions, and a bar of wines, juices and sodas. The plates were the small dessert-size, and most people just took one thing at a time, and only tried a couple things. Very unlike the American BBQ attitude of “fill that plate as much as you possible can with steak and chicken and burgers and chips and desserts...”

But, back to how I felt like I was in the 50's. Everyone dressed nice. The lighting was soft, we were in a lush well-groomed backyard outside of the city, with grass and flowers and a pool. Everyone looked sophisticated. They were engineers and business people. Susana used to be a reporter, and she speaks 5 languages. They all were very educated. And then one by one, they would all light up. I had to move a few times trying to escape the smoke. But, as much as the smoking bothered me, it just seemed to fit. There I was, in 1950. I felt like a young version of my grandpa would walk in at any minute with his cigarette. And my grandma might walk out with another tray of cute little crustless sandwiches.

I noticed the way I spoke that night was very careful. I learned Spanish in Latin America (mostly Mexico and Central America), and I also lived among the lower classes of people there, as I mentioned previously. Because of that my Spanish at times sounds like the equivalent of English learned in the Ozarks. I am very aware of it, and on top of that, I am very particular about trying to use Spanish vocabulary when I'm with Spaniards. And I notice that even my pronunciation changes. I've been speaking Spanish too long at this point to pick up the Spanish theta (the lisp they're so famous for), but that night I definitely caught myself pronouncing some very guttoral j's and palatalized s's. I got many complements on my Spanish, so that probably made me even more aware of it too!

Class 2: Immigrant working class, South American
Most of the friends I spent time with I met at church, and they were from Bolivia and Peru. They come here to earn more money than they can in South America, and some even come to get residency so they can travel to the US in the future. They work in restaurants or in cleaning houses (Susana in fact employs a girl from South America).

I didn't realize how upscale my apartment building was until I started visiting other apartments. I have a full-time doorman (I use the word full-time quite liberally, minus the breakfast breaks and siestas), a nice marble entry way, and an elevator. Their apartments aren't bad--Spain isn't 3rd world, but they're not near as nice as mine. There's no doorman and no elevator. And a lot of them share apartments. In Mallorca I stayed with a girl who lived with her mom and two other families. They all share the kitchen and then each have a bedroom/living area of their own.

Another family I stayed with in Mallorca was a couple with one teenage son. The mom (late 30's, from Bolivia) cleans houses and the dad (from Argentina, also late 30's) works in landscaping. But they actually live pretty well. The beach is TWO BLOCKS down the street. They have a little two-story house with a bedroom, living room, kitchen and bath downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs (no bath upstairs!). They have two small cars. But I can tell money is tight. One night I was there the girls all went out dancing. It was 5 euros (roughly $8) to go, and Lourdes (the mom) told the girls she didn't have the money to go. They had let us stay there that night, so I told her to take 5 euros from me and go. I obviously didn't go. They left after 1am (we never ate dinner there until midnight), and didn't get home until 6am! They may originally be South Americans, but they've sure adapted the Spanish schedule. I slept instead.

I actually felt really comfortable in this environment, even though I've never been to South American, and I noticed that when I'm at church I don't pay attention to my speech at all, and my Mexican/Central American self comes out loud and clear. I don't think I would have noticed, but one day one of the missionaries (a Bolivian) asked me if I was Mexican! I laughed and asked him why. I'd said something was “bien bonito.” Very Mexican. Very funny.

Class 3: Upper middle class, American
This is my English-speaking true self. I had a few friends from church in this category, and I had a few friends come visit me from the US. Most of my traveling took place here. It's comfortable. It was fun. But also a little too normal. Nothing much to write about here. Oh, except that this self went to France and got to speak French! I couldn't believe how much I understood. I had a year in high school and a semester in college, but that linguist inside me was just jumping for joy when I got to go to church and I could understand at least 75% of the lessons! That linguist side of me loved being in this area in general, and being around Galician, Catalan, Occidental, Portuguese, French and Spanish all in one small area! Basque was in there too, but mostly just in signs. I didn't really get to hear people speak it, and it's not a Romance language (it's origin is actually a mystery), so I wasn't as interested in trying to understand it as the others.

Anyway, I enjoyed leading so many lives in such a short amount of time. What an adventure!

Blessings and Burdens

At the end of Little Women, Jo’s crotchety, cranky old aunt dies and leaves her estate to Jo, who decides to turn it into a school. Jo makes a comment to her mom about how sad that the aunt died so lonely when she could have had so much to give, if she had only shared. That’s when wise Marmee makes the comment that yes, she could have lived a much happier life if she had shared, but her flaw was letting her blessings become her burdens. I think about that quote a lot. Probably because I’ve lived so many different lives, and at times I’ve had so much, and at other times I’ve lived with a dirt floor and no electricity or running water. I haven’t come close to anything like that in Spain (it has definitely been nice to come to country that’s not 3rd world), but again, I feel at home we often let our blessings become our burdens.

My post on food hinted at that—our country is about mass production of food, and because we have a lot, we eat a lot.

We also have a lot of space, and a lot of stuff. I have a 1500 sq foot house in Ca. Three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a garage and a yard. All to myself. And all full of stuff. It was nice to live without stuff. I had one suitcase of clothes. One room. A tiny bath and an even tinier kitchen. Granted, I am very excited to get home to a shower that's large enough that I don't have to open the curtain to have enough room to soap up. And that has enough water pressure that I'll want to wash my hair more than once a week. And I really missed having a couch. And more than one burner in the kitchen... So a little more space would be good. But I really don't need so much stuff! I'll have to clean out my garage when I get home, while I'm still in this mindset.

On food again

Sun July 27, 2014

Be prepared for probably some gross generalizations—this is all completely based on my own observations.

In general, the US has a problem with obesity. I realize (from my own experience) that this isn't always directly proportional to how much you eat. But I've been pondering the topic a lot lately. Spaniards are not obese. I have met a few that are overweight, but it's not common. And being obese is even more rare. I always thought it was because they had a better diet than Americans, and that they probably exercised more. But, I don't think that's entirely true.

The Spanish diet does have a lot of good things about it. And to an extent it probably is better than the average American, in that they don't eat as much really terrible fast food as we do. But their food (in the city, at least) isn't as fresh as I expected. All they eat for breakfast is bread and sugar, usually coffee and toast or pastries. They drink a lot of sugary beverages, and consume a lot of alcohol with lunch, tapas and dinner. The food isn't as natural and fresh as I'd hoped. I was looking forward to tart European yogurt, and instead the yogurt aisle looks way too much like it does in the US—most of it containing added sugar. They even have Danone. :( Granted, I live in the biggest city in the country, so I'm hoping the smaller towns have less commercialized food. I did get some amazing cheese right from the farmer while I was on the Camino.

A side note: As for exercise, living in the city, a lot of people do walk quite a bit. And there's a park near my house that has a running track, which is usually packed with runners and walkers. But I also have friends who don't really exercise much at all. And I feel that there aren't near as many gyms here as in the US. I have only seen a few. Not that that's the only way to exercise, but it's a way to measure that people do it, right?

But, back to eating, a topic (obviously) often on my mind. The conclusion that I've come to is that there are two things that I have noticed where Spain is very different from the US, as far as meals: portion size and dedicated eating times.

Restaurants serve fairly small portion sizes. You're not going to to find any Claim Jumper's portions here. And since restaurants serve small portions as snacks, people will eat more often, and eat less. I like that. And if you do order something large, it's expected that you'll share it. I like that too. I went and got gelato with a friend (an american). She ordered the largest cone they offered, which came with 4 scoops of gelato. The girl serving us started to put two spoons in the cone. I told her I wasn't going to eat any, and as she put the second spoon back, her eyes got huge with incredulity. If only she could see Leatherby's and American gluttony at its finest!

What I mean by dedicated eating is that they only eat when they are sitting down, focused on eating. There's no eating while walking or while traveling. I ate an apple while walking once. And the entire time I was completely aware that I was breaking all norms. I was hungry though, so I did it anyway. Since then I've seen two other people eat something on the street. The only times Spaniards ever eat anything while walking is if they have an ice cream cone (which isn't even super common).

They also don't usually eat in the car. The cars here don't even have cup holders. I don't think I would have even noticed, except that Susana pointed it out to me. We were driving in her BMW, and she said that was something she'd noticed in the US, that every car has multiple cup holders, and they don't here. That's when I looked around and realized there wasn't a single cup holder in there!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ramblings on Spain

Sat July 12, 2014 I don't know what happened to the last month! Just as I suspected, once living here became normal, it's become much harder to write about. And I've been busy, but I feel like a native now! I understand pretty much everyone, I know what to say in different situations (it was the cultural more than the language that I wasn't sure about at the start—they are much more informal and direct than in Latin America). I'm a pro at the metro, I've got the neighborhoods around me down. I know what most of the food is, I have friends, and I've learned tons about the history of Spain. And I've explored a good chunk of the cultural/geographical areas of the country (Galicia, Catalonia, Andalusia, and Castille). In short, this is great. I wouldn't really want to live in the city again, but it has made traveling easy, and I am loving Spain. Here are some things I've noticed about Spain in general (most of them in Madrid). • They're not big on details. ◦ Like street signs. Sure, there are arrows on the road showing direction that major roads will take you, but if you're looking for a specific address, just be ready to have to ask people the names of streets (but people have always very helpful when I ask directions. They usually know, and will tell you when they don't, unlike the Dominican Republic where they just make it up in an effort to be “helpful”...). They have plaques on the sides of the buildings showing the street names, but not necessarily at every intersection. And they're not uniform at all, so you don't always know what to look for. ◦ Menus. The menu of the day is usually a handwritten chalkboard sign with about 3-4 firsts (I don't think that's what we call it in English...oh well...), and about 3-4 main dishes. You just choose it by the meat, and they don't ever tell you the side. I've learned to ask lots of questions. You can pretty much assume the side will be fried potatoes, but yesterday I ordered fish, and instead of coming with fried potatoes, or even rice like I would have expected, it came with shredded cabbage. Which was good, but had I known, I wouldn't have ordered a salad as my first. I would have ordered the gazpacho. Yum...gazpacho. ◦ Public transportation. It seems like the best thing to do if you want to go on a trip is go ahead of time directly to the bus or train station you'll depart from and purchase tickets. The internet is useful for looking up the train or bus station you'll need (Madrid has 2 train stations, an airport, various major bus stations, and tons of train/bus connection points where you can meet up with the metro), but as far as actually purchasing the tickets, I've rarely been successful online. It seems that a good number of people just show up to catch the train/bus they need, and get a seat then. I like to have mine ahead of time though. They're just not forthcoming with information. I've gone to the info booth in the main downtown metro station a couple times to ask about tourist passes, and never have they said here's how it works, and given me all the info on all the different choices I have. Rather, I do the research on my own (online, or asking people), and then go there and ask questions, and most of the time figure it out. There's a Spain Rail pass you can get that I should have gotten when I first got here, but I just didn't have all the information yet! And yesterday coming back from Granada, I bought our return tickets with an open date/time so we wouldn't have a time constraint. But I was told by one person that I could just go up to the bus I want with that ticket and get on, which wasn't true. You have to wait in the ticketing line again. Chandra and I ended up having to take a later bus than expected because of that small detail, but it wasn't really a big deal, since they run so often (the public transportation is fantastic!). • Parks ◦ I love that Madrid has lots of parks. I think I would have been found curled up in the fetal position somewhere, drooling and shaking if it weren't for the parks. Especially the more natural section of the Parque del Retiro. Lots of them are so manicured that I don't feel like I'm even in nature. Thankfully, Madrid is pretty green, and the parks have saved me. Along with my visits to the beach, smaller towns, and walking through the forest on the camino. I don't know how people live in cities. How do they wear shoes every day? I just have to go barefoot outside often. ◦ Some observations about the parks: ▪ If you want to sunbathe, it's totally normal to do so in the middle of a park. In a swimsuit. And you don't necessarily need a top. ▪ Some parks have a section for dogs. At mine I've noticed it's usually packed. Up to 25 or 30 dogs at a time. Whereas the human park generally only has 2 or 3 humans. :( Looks like a declining birthrate for humans. Not so much for dogs though... ▪ Parks are crowded at night. Late at night. If I go on a Saturday, mid-morning, I'll have the park on my street pretty much to myself. But at night, there's rarely a spare bench. And that's when the dogs and kids come out to play. • Food. ◦ Yum. Spanish food is good. I love that restaurants have home-cooked food. Unless they're really high quality, and more expensive, American Restaurants have a flavor. A flavor that's not good. Like if you go to Chili's or Mimi's, for just a mainstream American meal, it doesn't taste quite like actual food. There's something about it. A flavor. A not-real-food-here flavor. Spain does have chains too (Vips, 100 montaditos, el corte ingles), and the food isn't quite as good to me in those chains, but it's still far ahead of American chains. It doesn't have the “flavor.” And what I love, is that chains are less common than just normal cafes and restaurants. I love that lunch is the biggest meal. And I love ordering the 3 course standard lunch. You get something like a salad, soup (hot in the winter, cold in the summer) or sliced tomatoes or sautéed mushrooms, or melon with cured ham (like prosciutto) to name a few. Then, the main dish has some form of ham, beef, fish, pork (I realize I said that already, but they love their ham!) or pasta. You also get a drink and a dessert. And THE BEST part is that there's always a fruit option for dessert. The melon is probably my favorite. Yum. And the food tastes real. Granted, I have found restaurants that have a better tortilla española, or better gazpacho, or the best grilled peppers, but the food is generally good anywhere. Because it tastes like real food. ◦ They usually eat breakfast late, around 9 or 10, lunch is served from 2-4, and then restaurants open for dinner at 9, but people don't usually eat until 10, or even 11. Last night I saw a sign at a restaurant for brunch, which was being served from 12-2! If you get hungry between meals you just stop for tapas or raciones (larger tapas that can be shared amongst friends). I love that they are all about serving up small things if you like. In the US restaurants definitely don't promote ordering small portions of things to share with friends. They even have a verb for it here, picar, meaning to snack or just pick at food. It's nice. But maybe they do it because everyone orders so much alcohol it's worth it for restaurants. ◦ My biggest complaint about the food is that there's A LOT of bread. Basically, breakfast is bread and sugar. Lunch is served with a basket of bread, tapas most often are served over bread. Smaller snacks and meals are mostly bocadillos (rolls of french bread with meat or cheese inside), empanadas, etc. So it's hard to find snacks, or quick small meals. I just go to the fruterias and get fruit and eat lots of nuts. Well, I was going to write about recent travels, but now I'm out of time, so I'll have to catch up on that later... I guess I like this sort of thing better. Traveling is fun, but regular life in a foreign country is the best!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Coronation

Thursday June 19, 2014 I was so lucky with my timing on coming to Spain. While I was on the camino, Juan Carlos announced he would be abdicating the throne. His son, Felipe VI was next in line, and today was his coronation! I talked to Susana (my friend who I rent from) last night, and their apartment is under construction (they're remodeling her twin girls' bedroom/bathroom), and today was also the twins' 13th birthday. We decided that we would figure out where to go, and we could all go out to eat together, or something to celebrate both the coronation, and their birthday. We were just going to watch the whole event on TV. Then when I woke up this morning to helicopters buzzing around, it hit me how big an event this is, and there's no way I was going to just watch it on tv, especially when it's going on within walking distance of me! So I got ready, and called Susana. She said she'd just been thinking about me. I told her I really wanted to go out, and then she said she'd love for the girls to go too, but she couldn't leave the apartment because she had workers there. Anyway, I volunteered to take the girls with me, and we had a great time together! I didn't really know what to expect at all. I'd read online the general outline of the day, so I knew they were going to be inside the palace during the morning, and then in the early afternoon there was going to be some sort of parade. I figured everything would be really congested, and that we wouldn't be able to see much, but I just wanted to at least head down there and be able to be a part of the atmosphere in general. I hadn't even made it to the royal palace before at all, so other than a quick glance at a map before we left, I didn't really know where we were headed. Susana said that “Sol,” the main downtown metro stop, was closed, and we should get out on the one before. So we just took the metro about three stops (that's how close I am!) and got out. It wasn't hard because we just followed all the people. I could see the Royal Palace pretty quickly after we got out of the metro. We were just about a block west of it, and the police had put up a lot of barricades, so we just followed everyone. They had us walk around the Plaza del Oriente, where the palace is, and then before I knew it, they were sending us through a security checkpoint and we were in! We made our way pretty close to the front and towards the middle, right along the side of a little garden. It wasn't even super crowded when we first got there (around 11:30am), but it was filling up fast. We had no idea how long we would be waiting because we didn't even really know what we were waiting for! We thought maybe the parade would start there. The girls were getting hot, thirsty, hungry, and tired. They played with my phone for a while. My Samsung 2 is a huge hit here. Guess they haven't realized yet that the 5 is out... Anyway, we took pics and videos of ourselves, played games, looked at the pics in my phone, and chatted. Well, they did. A lot. They never stop! I loved it. They were so cute! Then at 12:30, out came the king and his family! They came out onto the balcony and waved and the crowd went crazy shouting “viva el rey” and “Felipe VI.” It was so exciting! People were waving flags, wearing flags, chanting, and signing. It was great! We'd had a really good view when we first got there, but as the time went on, and as people pushed, we ended up with not quite as clear of a shot. People weren't supposed to be in the garden, and at first the police were really on top of things, kicking them out, but then towards the end there were just too many people. So everyone around us started yetting “fuera” to the people in the garden. There were some not nice words exchanged, but overall, I was surprised that it wasn't really so bad beign there with so many people. I think the fact that there were no cars helped a lot. We heard later on TV that 70,000 people were there! At one point we passed a cute young couple with a little girl who was wearing a Burger King crown. The girls (since it's their birthday) asked the couple if it was the girl's birthday and they said, “no, she's the new queen!” They loved it. It was really cute. Anyway, after the king went back in, the crowds started to disperse, and since the girls were dying of thirst and hunger, we found a little cafe that wasn't too overcrowded. I saved a table outside while they went in to get something. Their mom had given them money, and like the 13 year olds that they are, they each came out with a Coke and a huge piece of chocolate cake! They were so happy to sit at that cafe. We were there an hour, and I was ready to go. They didn't want to go yet, so I left them there and went and walked around the Royal Palace some more. There was a military band there playing, so I strolled around, just enjoying the atmosphere for a little longer. Susana came and met us later, and we went to yet another cafe since the girls were actually hungry for real food by this time. Susana and I dropped them off at the movies, and then she went with me to yet another cafe where I could get a salad. I was STARVING, and all there is to eat is bread. This country is obsessed with bread and ham. Or pork, I should say. And potatoes. They should call them “spanish fries,” not french fries... Anyway, I ate my salad, and then we strolled around one of the cute neighborhoods in the area. We picked up the girls from the movie and then I left them all to visit their grandma (who lives in my building, right below me), and have their little family birthday party. The girls really wanted me to come, but Susana said her mom isn't doing well right now and would be humiliated to have company see her. So I headed home, which I didn't mind at all. By then it was about 8:30, and I was exhausted. And starving again. I just can't wait until 10pm to eat dinner! I'll just put pics on Facebook.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Church was fun in my ward today. I played the piano in RS. They normally just sing a cappella, and it sounds TERRIBLE! So, I decided that my meagre plunking through the hymns has got to be better than that. It was. One of the sisters told me afterwards that having accompaniment is like the icing on the cake. Except she said something like it’s the meat in the burger? I don’t remember exactly. But I felt appreciated. :) I told them I’ll play every Sunday, so I stayed after for a bit and practiced, and made a list of the hymns that are the easiest for me. There were about 6, that I came up with, so it looks like I’ll have to add to my repertoire. But that should work for now. Tomorrow night I’m going to the FHE (family home evening activity) for YSA’s (Young Single Adults). And then Saturday afternoon I’m going to a museum with the SA’s (Single Adults). I’m glad I can fit into both groups for the fact that it gives me more people to meet.

I'm going to start going to yoga this week too. I'm really excited about that! I found a studio close to my house. I'm going to go there tomorrow, and then when that free trial runs out, I'll do yoga in the park, and Bikram yoga until I run out of trials. It's soooo expensive to join here.

Anyway, on to the topic of this blog: Barcelona. I got back last night. I was glad I got to go—it’s a beautiful city. The two best things in my opinion: the beach, and Gaudi. He (Gaudi) was such a master. I’ve always wanted to see the Sagrada Familia, probably since I took Spanish high school. And when I saw the outside, truthfully, I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s covered in scaffolding because its’ construction never ends (they started building it in the late 1800’s, and are hoping to finish by the year 2030). Also, it’s just right in the midst of the city, and, after all the photos I’ve seen, it just seemed small. BUT, when I went inside, I completely changed my opinion. It’s majestic. I can’t really think of any better way to describe it. Gaudi built it to bring about a contemplation of the divine, and that’s exactly how I felt. My favorite part was his use of light. He uses stained glass to control the reflection of the light. It casts beams of color along the walls and floor as it reflects through the windows, and the patterns are constantly changing with the changing sun. I also really loved how his inspiration comes from nature. The bases of the columns were tree trunks that grew up into branches and flowers as they bloom into the arched ceilings. I can’t even describe it. It was breathtaking though. I think I was there for 3 hours. The photos are ok, but they just don’t do it justice.

I also really liked Guell Park. It was originally built for the Guell family, as a private residence, but luckily it’s private no more! It was amazing too. Not quite as spiritual as the Sagrada Familia, but beautiful nonetheless. It’s in the hills overlooking the city, so not only is the architecture beautiful, the surroundings are as well. And, you get to take escalators up the streets to the top. It looked a lot like San Francisco. Maybe they should get some escalators too. And while we were there we met a family from Arizona (they’re Mormon too). We all started chatting, and when we mentioned that we were off to get paella for dinner, they asked if they could join us. Of course! They were so fun to talk to. The parents both went on Spanish speaking missions, and they had actually lived for a short time in Barcelona in the 90’s when their first child was born. They’d always wanted to bring them back, so they came this year on a family vacation. It was funny because we’d been told the place we were going was really popular and we needed to make reservations. I’d called earlier in the day to make reservations for me and Kathleen, and it was weird because the man who answered said we could have a reservation. Then when I asked what time, he said any time after 8. I thought that was weird, but just wrote it off. Then, I called back later, to make sure we could add 7 PEOPLE to our reservation, and he was so nonchalant about it, that it felt very weird. That’s a lot of people to add, and I felt like he was bothered by the fact that I called to make sure it was ok. But, again, I just thought, “oh, well, it’s Spain. I’ve heard that people make reservations here, but maybe not. They seem so laid back about making plans.” Anyway, when we got there we realized that it was the second night of the world cup, and Spain was playing! So the restaurants were all practically empty. The clubs that had TV’s had customers, but that was about it! Unfortunately they lost 1-5. I hope they win at least one game while I’m here. That would be really fun to experience!

And then, of course, I loved the beach. Minus the topless women. I had to laugh at one lady wearing a bikini bottom and a hat. And that’s all. But, back to the beach. It wasn’t an amazing tropical beach with crystal clear water, but it was nice. The water was the perfect temperature. It was really humid and hot there, and the water was refreshing. Although VERY salty. I floated soooo easily. I tried to sit up in it, but my feet would just float to the top. I swam out to the booeys and back. It was fun, but I wished my bothers were there to swim with me.

The most surprising thing for me about Barcelona was the Catalan. It’s yet another Romance language (like Galician, Italian, Spanish, French, etc.) and they speak it in Catalonia, which is where Barcelona is. I’d heard that the people there have really been pushing to break away from Spain and be independent, and have Catalan as their official language, so I wasn’t completely surprised when I got there and noticed that ALL the signs are in Catalan, and nothing is in Spanish. It is really amazing that they've been able to preserve their language and culture so well, especially when it has been banned at various points in history (like under Franco). But I felt like it got to a point where it was a little over the top. I mean, I’m sure a huge portion of their economy relies on tourists (they get cruise ships, and have tons of tourists), and the signs are ONLY in Catalan. And not just road signs, but even most of the museum signs. Some places would have things in Catalan, then Spanish, then English, and then sometimes French. But, for example, in the Sagrada Familia museum, they had a movie that played on a loop. The schedule outside showed that the movie was in Catalan, but then had subtitles in Spanish, English, and French at various times throughout the day. I doubt they really get that many Catalan-speaking tourists. The linguist in me loved it though! I really enjoyed seeing it written, and I was able to understand most of it (I felt like it was more similar to French and Italian, whereas the Galician was more like Portuguese and Spanish). I could understand the signs, but it wasn’t as easy to understand when spoken. Galician was much easier for me. Anyway, it made me glad that I chose to live in Madrid because I really want to get to know the Spanish Language and culture to a greater extent, and there I got the feeling they wanted as little as possible to do with anything Spanish. There was even a rally going on the day I left—I saw tons of people on the subway with shirts with something about independence for Catalonia and the Basque country. They all got off the stop before me, though. I would have liked to learn more about that.

Anyway, I thought I’d probably go to Barcelona a few times while I’m here, since it’s only a 3 hr speed train away (which was pretty cool, by the way—that was my first time on a speed train). But it was $170 euros for my round-trip tickets. Yikes! I could go to Paris or Rome on that. So, that’s probably going to be the only time I go to Barcelona, unless I find a cheap flight...

I was going to add pics, but I think I'll just put them on Facebook. I'm having a hard time transferring them to my laptop from my phone.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In Santiago de Compostela

Sunday June 8, 2014 We agreed to meet up at one of the “little” churches near the main cathedral to get our certificate of 800yrs since St Francis de Assisi completed the camino. You can only get one every 100yrs. I’m pretty sure this will be my only chance, so we really wanted to get those. Then Kathleen and I headed to church. We were late, so we took a taxi, but it turns out that it wasn’t far at all! The taxi driver was great to talk to. His son lives near Fresno, so he’s been to California several times. He said he’s going again later this summer. He seemed like a mean old Spaniard when we first got in, but he was the nicest guy. I’ve noticed that a lot here. People don’t seem friendly on the outside, but as soon as you say anything to them, they really open up, and they do everything they can to help. Anyway, we had a nice chat. He helped us find the church, and he had actually heard of Mormons and said they’ve even come to his house before. Wow! We were 1/2 an hour late for church, and of course the only door into the chapel was right in front. And, since we’d been hiking all week, we only had hiking clothes. We stood outside and looked in just for a minute, and someone opened the door right away and motioned for us to come in and sit. So we had to walk in front of everyone in our grubby clothes. It didn’t matter at all though. They were so welcoming and so excited to have us. I felt like royalty. I hope I can always treat visitors how they treated me. I noticed that the pianist and chorister had left during the second speaker, so when it was time for the music, I told Kathleen to play the piano, and I popped up and led the music (just like in the old YSA days!). They were so grateful afterwards, and the Branch President told us we were their angels, straight from heaven! There were only about 30 people in Sacrament Meeting. And then, when it was time for Sunday School, we were down to about 7. It was a really good class though. Relief Society had about 9. Needless to say, I participated a lot, reading, praying and commenting. Everyone has to. They all hugged and kissed us all the time (In Spain they kiss on both cheeks—Mexico was just one). They were so great! I feel like we bonded with them so much in only a few hours. I even got a phone number from someone, and they said they’ll call me when they come to Madrid to go to the temple. That night Kathleen and I walked around the town some more, and then looked around the museum in the main Cathedral. It was unreal. They had things from the 1500’s, just sitting there, no big deal. In the US, those things would be all cased up. They had a library with books that were hundreds and hundreds of years old. It was amazing. Monday June 9, 2014 I was going to head to Leon with some friends I’d met on the Camino, but I really felt like I needed to get back home, so I bought my train ticket for Madrid in the afternoon. I spent some time in the town again, and also at the albergue. The albergue owners there were wonderful. They didn’t want me to go. I would have loved to live with them. Manuel wanted me to stay and teach him English. The night before, Kathleen asked where we could get churros and chocolate, and a few minutes later he came back with some cups of chocolate, and a bag of churros. I did try a little, and it was soooooo good. The churros don’t really do much for me—I’m not really a pastry person. Kathleen ate 12 (sorry Kathleen, but I just had to share that!). But I did drink some of the chocolate. It’s like drinking the Ghiridelli dark chocolate fudge. YUM! What we make in the states is like hot water with some chocolate powder. Nothing in comparison. Anyway, later that afternoon when it was time to leave, I gave Manuel and his wife (argh! I can’t remember her name!) hugs and thanked them. We got a little emotional. I was choking back tears on my walk to the train station, thinking about them, about the people at church, and the camino in general. I feel like I left a little piece of my soul in Santiago.

El Camino, Day 5

Day 5 (Sat June 7) Cruceiro do Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela, 19 kilometers Amaya wasn’t feeling well in the morning, so they decided to sleep in, but Kathleen and I wanted to make it to Santiago for the 12pm mass. They have it every day in the cathedral to welcome the pilgrims. We left a little after 6:30, and kept a pretty fast pace. It had rained in the night, so the roads were wet, but we didn’t get rained on much during the day. I had expected to be out of the forest by this time, but that was not the case! We still had beautiful ferns, and dense trees. And still lots of hills and rolling farmlands. I had asked one of the locals what they do there, and was told that they mostly live off the land. Their gardens and chickens provide the food they need, and then they sell cheese and animal products, and sometimes animals to get money. Anyway, the forest did eventually end, and we found ourselves on the outskirts of the city. It felt like we’d walked in the city for a while before I got a glimpse of the tops of the cathedral. It was exciting, but actually not as much as I thought it would be. This was a short day, and we knew we were almost done, so we had really booked it. We left our bags at the albergue on the way in, and then went the rest of the way into town. We stopped and took a photo, and hugged, but we were so anxious to get seats that we rushed into the Cathedral. It was a little after 11 by that time. And, we didn’t know it, but there was a mass at 11, so we got the last half of that, and then the 12:00 mass too. I took a video because it’s really hard to describe, but this Cathedral is famous for a huge bronze incense holder that they swing across the cathedral, right over the crowds of people. I asked some locals about it because I really hadn’t done much research (I didn’t even know I was going until the night before!), and all I really remember is what I’ve seen in my students’ text books. Anyway, I guess it began as a way to cleanse the cathedral because of all the people who came from their farms and fields, or from long journeys and smelled terrible. But now it has turned into a famous ritual the church is known for. After mass we walked around the town a little. It’s such a cute town. With old stone buildings and streets to match. And everyone has flowers in their balconies. We decided to go get in line to get our compostela (our certificate of completion) and that’s where the magic of the camino really happened. One by one throughout the rest of that day we ran into EVERY SINGLE person we had walked with at various times, all along the way. I kept telling people it was like the season finale of your favorite TV show. We all cried and hugged and were just so excited to be reunited and see that they had made it too. Since we’d left before Alvaro and Amaya, we weren’t sure if they’d made it. And Amaya hadn’t been feeling well. But we rounded a street corner, and there they were! And then in line we were talking to our group of college-aged Spaniards when Patrick and Audra walked up. We hadn’t seen them since day 1, and we had heard Audra had injured her foot. She’d done 4 out of 5 days in flip-flops because her heal had gotten so bruised and swollen she couldn’t wear shoes. But they’d made it! And then when we were looking for Kathleen’s hotel, we saw Angie (she’d beaten us by a day!). And the list goes on. It continued that entire evening. Reunion after reunion! That night we went to dinner with Patrick and Audra, and Valerie and Nick (a couple from Oregon who had walked the entire route, 5 weeks, in their late 60’s!) It was a really spiritual dinner. We got there around 8 (too early for Spaniards) so we had the back room to ourselves, and we all took turns sharing our favorite part of the camino. There wasn’t a dry eye at our table. We all talked of developing stronger relationships with God and with other people, finding strength within ourselves, and of how God is the grand instegator of the great camino of our lives. I told how I couldn’t help but think that the reunions we had in the streets of Santiago parallel the reunions we’ll have in the next life as we great our loved ones, and welcome them after finishing their journey. The restaurant got more crowded later on, but the dinner never lost its magic. And it also happened to be some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had. Plates of grilled vegetables and fresh cheeses. Avocados and tomatoes, ox tail, olives, and rum-soaked cherries for dessert. I skipped those! :) I didn’t want the night to end.

El Camino, Day 4

Day 4 (Friday June 6, 2014) Arzua to Cruceiro do Pedrouzo, 20 kilometers My hip was still really sore, so I sent my pack ahead to the next town. You can have them shipped for 3 euros. That’s another nice thing about backpacking in a more populated area. I don’t think I would have made it with my pack. My hip was still really sore, even without it. We got rained on a ton! But we had fun with it. We walked with Alvaro and Amaya, and I mostly walked with Amaya (she had a really sore knee) and Kathleen and Alvaro walked a little ahead of us. I loved it because I got to chat the whole day with Amaya in Spanish. Her family is from the Basque region, and she speaks Basque (actually called eusquero). I got to talk to her about Spanish and Spain. She told me about the cultures in the different regions, and recommended books to read. It was so fun for me. About half way through, it was just pouring REALLY hard, so we stopped at a cafe for a bit. It was a really fun place. There were shirts from all over hung everywhere, and the walls were covered in writing in tons of different languages. I got some mint tea, a banana, and some nuts. Everything else had bread! But that was enough to keep me going. And we had a blast squished in there with all the other pilgrims. Everyone was sharing tables and food. We passed around our chocolate. We ended up talking to some Germans for a while. It’s amazing how everyone communicates. I felt like I could talk to anyone! I guess knowing Spanish and English had a lot to do with it. We were pretty soaked, but it was still a fun day!

El Camino, Day 3

Day 3 (Thurs June 5, 2014) Palas de Rei to Arzua, 29 kilometers This was definitely the longest and toughest day! Not only was it the most kilometers in a day, but it also had the most hills. Although every day was pretty hilly, much more than I anticipated. It was still so incredibly beautiful. More forests and rolling hills of farmlands. At our half way point we stopped in Melide, and had pulpo (octopus), which this town is famous for. It was surprisingly really good. I mean, I like calamari, but I thought it was because it’s fried. But the octopus is just boiled, sprinkled with salt and cayenne pepper and olive oil. And apparently it’s a real art to cook it because if it’s wrong it’s chewy and terrible. But it was delicious! Very rich, though. I was glad I shared it with Kathleen. The highlight of the pulperia (octopus place, not grocery store like in Honduras) for me, though, was being able to sit next to an older man, and talk to him about life there. He’s a farmer, but now is retired and his son runs the farm. He likes to get pulpo when he comes to town. He had really bright blue eyes, and was such a genuinely nice man. I was thrilled because he kept slipping into Gallego (Galician), the local language. It’s another Romance language (like Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, Romanian, etc). It’s actually really similar to Portuguese, and I had no trouble understanding it. So fascinating. I can’t believe they’re able to keep it up. Spain’s regions are really amazing at how different they are, and how strong they have stayed during all these years. So much under one country. My hip had started to really bother me in the morning. But luckily I ran into a group of Spaniards (recent college grads) who were really interesting to talk to, and they helped take my mind off of it. That’s another miracle of the camino. It feels like whenever things get hard, and you’re struggling, someone comes along to lift you, to talk to you, and help you forget it’s hard. These boys were all very religious, and would stop at almost every chapel along the way. I talked to one of them for a while about Mormonism—he’d never even heard of it, and we talked about the similarities between our religions. Then I found out they were graduating in engineering. They got excited that my brother works for Ebay, and that I’ve been to Silicon Valley, and the google campus. They were really cute. Towards the end of the day my hip was throbbing, and we’d gotten rained on, so I went ahead of everyone to our albergue, rather than resting again. I felt like it hurt more after resting. Once again, I ran into some people to help me take my mind off it. There were some girls who had started alone, but now had quite a large camino family—about 6 people. The two I talked to were from different countries—a Mexican/American from Bakersfield, and a girl from England. Both living here for a year to study and get better at Spanish. They want to teach it eventually. They were so fun to talk to, and thanks to them, I made it! And ironically I was the first one of our group to the albergue that night. Albaro and Amaya planed to stay in the same albergue as us, along with Angie again, so we all pitched in and made dinner together that night. It was so fun! I loved eating together like a real family. Then after dinner they worked on Kathleen’s feet. She’d gotten blisters. I lucked out on that account, and didn’t really have anything too bad on my feet.

El Camino, Day 2

Day 2 (Wed June 4, 2014) Portomarin to Palas de Rei, 22 kilometers It’s just 10 euros a night to stay in the albergues, and this first one just had one big room with about 15 bunk beds. The man sleeping on the bed under Kathleen, next to me, snored sooooo much and soooo loud. But ironically it was the best night’s sleep I’d had in days, and Kathleen let me sleep until 8! I was worried we wouldn’t make the next town early enough to get a place to sleep, so asked the woman who worked there to recommend one in the next town. We phoned ahead and reserved our spots for that night. I’d hoped to walk with Patrick and Audra again, but they hadn’t slept well, so they’d left at 6am. Kathleen was excited when I got up, though, because she’d met a couple from Spain the night before, staying in our albergue (Alvaro and Amaya). They’re in their early/mid 20’s, and are college students, studying medicine. They both spoke English pretty well, but I was excited to get to talk with some Spaniards. We talked to them a little in the morning, but didn’t see them during our walk. But, when we got to our albergue that night in Palas de Rei, they were there! We went and got some snacks together, and all sat on the lawn and ate and chatted. Another friend, Angie, joined us too. She had started in France and was running the camino! I think it’s called “camino” for a reason, (it could also translate to "I walk") but whatever! :) Some of the pics in the previous post belong in today's. Oh, well!

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela: Day 1

Day 1 (Tues June 3) Sarria to Portomarin, 21 kilometers We didn’t sleep well at all on the train, but were too excited to care much. Sarria was beautiful. So green and lush, with quaint little stone houses with cute gardens and vines. I noticed a lot of them trained the grape vines to grow up over the first story of windows and right under the second story so they can pick grapes out the windows (just like our family does with our orange tree!). We stopped at a cafe and bought our pilgrim passports and got our first stamp. The passport is what proves you actually did the camino, and lets you stay at the albergues. (basically like hostels, but only for pilgrims—people walking the camino). You have to get stamps in the passport along the way, in order to get your certificate at the end. We started at a pretty good pace. We met a couple from Denmark right of the train, and a mother and daughter from Japan. After we started walking we talked a little with a couple from Mexico. Then probably about 2k into it, we met a couple from Ohio. They’re my age, and we ended up walking with them and chatting the whole first day. We didn’t know it, but that was the beginning of our camino family. It’s hard to describe the spirit of the camino. I’ve done hikes before, and this one was every bit as beautiful as any I’ve done. But it’s a little different because you’re around more people, and you’re in the countryside, and occasionally walk through villages. Your destination isn’t a lake or the top of a mountain, but it’s a church in the middle of a city at the end. But you still get to spend time in nature, and it’s a spiritual journey on so many levels. It began as a pilgrimage where people would walk from their homes in Spain, Portual and France, mostly, in order to visit the Cathedral where St. James is buried. They generally did it seeking some sort of forgiveness or cleansing. Now people do it for all sorts of reasons. Some just do it for the walk, for exercise, or something of that nature, but most of the people I talked to also were seeking some sort of cleansing or healing. Many were looking for healing from the death of a loved one, or a physical healing (one woman from cancer), or healing after a divorce. Others just wanted to strengthen their relationship with God, or find out something about themselves. There are a huge variety of reasons. Their motives weren’t always religious, but I found that most of the people I talked to were religious. I had the opportunity to talk about my religion and my beliefs daily. I never would have expected that in Europe! The first day went really well. I was exhausted by the time we got to Portomarin. It’s a beautiful little village (actually the only village we saw that day) nestled in the hills just above a river. It’s a fairly new village because the river has been dammed up, so it’s now more like a lake, and the original village is at the bottom (like Folsom Lake!). We walked a little aimlessly around the town until we met a man who recommended an albergue to us. We were so tired we just went with the first suggestion. I went and got dinner with our American friends from Ohio (Patrick and Audra). I just love them. She is originally from the Bay Area, and he’s from Ohio. They have 3 kids at home, and they’d sent them to a camp so they could take this trip. After dinner we just went back to the albergue, washed some clothes (you basically just bring 2 of everything and wash your shirt and underwear each day so you’ll have something clean the next day), chatted, used wifi on our phones, and tried to stay awake until a reasonable hour.