Monday, March 14, 2011

Back on board

It's been a while since I've updated, and for the most part, it's been because I haven't been travelling, for one thing. But for another, I had to take time and adjust back to life in Boston, on campus, seeing all my friends and family again. The first month back in the US was rough; while it was nice to have some uniquely American conveniences back (Target, 24 grocery stores) I miss other things a great deal.

I was appalled that I couldn't really drink at noon, pair a giant beer or wine with my lunch. Everytime I went to a cafe, I craved a cigarette and wished it were Bailey's instead of milk in my coffee. I still swear in Spanish sometimes, and spell words in Spanish. The first day back, when speaking to family, I would start a sentence in Polish only to forget words or finish the statement in castellano. It got really bad when I was drinking with friends; you could tell that I'd had too much when I got to the point that I would refuse to speak English. Not many of my friends were Spanish speakers, so they would get concerned, not knowing whether or not I was coherent at times.

But I digress. The point is that I've had about 9 months to adjust. And not a day has gone by yet that I have not had some thought about Burgos, my friends, or some other random memory. A song comes on shuffle, a dish at a restaurant, anything will set me off. And after settling down for a semester, grateful to not be living out of a suitcase, I needed to travel again.

I always thought that "the travelling bug" was kind of pretentious, mostly because people I knew got really pretentious when talking about their travels. I hope I'm not that way, because I've definitely caught the bug myself. Which brings me to the giant Mexican flag at the top of this entry. About three weeks ago, I was talking to my friend Andrea and I said we should go somewhere together for spring break. Around Boston, there are a lot of cheap weekend getaways to Montreal, New York, Philly...

I wanted something warmer. Boston isn't exactly known for mild winters, and I needed sun. So I said, "Well, I know tickets to Mexico are cheap". And things came together after that. A third friend of ours, Ko, lived in Mexico City with her family. A fourth friend, Marie, spontaneously tagged along. And Frida Kahlo, the woman of my soul, is probably Mexico City's most famous resident. Her house still stands here and it became Tourist Attraction No. 1.

Three weeks later, I'm here in my friend's bed. The four of our are cuddling after an exhausting two days of sight-seeing and two nights of drinking and goofing around. Periodically, we'll look at eachother and say "We are so lucky to be here". But, really, we so are.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fight for your Right to Fiesta

I spent the first half of this past week in Valladolid, hometown of my very close friend Juan Carlos. Since as of Monday I had one week left in Spain I wanted to end my semester with a bang, and Juan Carlos is just the guy to go to to start off such a week. So on Monday, we hopped on a train from Burgos to Valladolid, and over the next few days Juan Carlos showed me his town, introduced me to his friends; his lovely mother made me delicious food and treated me as one of her own; and on Wednesday night, Juan Carlos took me to the epitome of Spanish parties: The Fiesta de San Juan.
The Fiesta de San Juan is a summer holiday celebrated in many European countries. It coincides with the summer solstice and includes rites centering around its theme: purification. However, in Spain--where logic is profoundly driven by wine and siesta--this purification is realised by partying and drinking. And drinking. And drinking. The celebration in Valladolid was no exception, a rave on the river's beach with wine, fire pits, barbeques, music, and a crowd of hundreds if not thousands.
But enough of that wikipedia & travel channel -esque bullplop. This is really why I'm sitting here and writing this.

It's not just that the past 5 months have gone by quickly. And it's not just that it's felt like far fewer time than that. The truth is that the person who is leaving Spain, the person I am right now, is not the same person who came to this country in February. For a long time I had been a different person in theory and practise. In theory, I was an open-minded and free-spiritted college girl. In practise, I was neurotic, afraid, easily angered and cynical. I had terrible anxiety, because of which I treated people I cared about a lot not as well or as rationally as I could have. And I backed down from adventures and responsibilities I should have taken advantage of. Frankly, I wasn't very happy, and I regret some of the stupid things I said or did in the past two years.
But over the past 5 months, I've done things that I never thought I would venture to do. It started with a spontanteous series of clicks on the internet in March, and in April I found myself singing Frank Sinatra on Parisian streets with Swedish backpackers, and drinking Belgian beers in Dutch punk bars. Going to San Sebastian alone because I damn well felt like it. Developing an obsession for Bailey's. Wearing different clothes and speaking different languages. Making new friends from literally around the world.
But mostly, spending alot of time either completely alone or with people entirely different from myself. The past 5 months have been a series of experiences that have slowly brought my practical self back to my theoretical self, which really, was always the self I wanted to be. I feel most like myself when I can say, "it's no big deal", "don't worry about it", "no sweat" and actually mean it. Guess what? I can do that now.
I'm not saying that I've changed overnight into a perfect person. Not at all. Rather that, when I plunged deeply into an experience so foreign, I ended up finding a better general sense of myself. And really, Spain is one of the best places to go to learn to let go. The Spaniards are probably the most relaxed and laconic culture I've encountered, able to be lively and calm at the same time.
So it goes almost without saying that it was only too perfect wrapping up my semester in Spain at the Fiesta of San Juan. After 5 months of wine, schoolwork, and travel, a much more Veronica-ish Veronica came to Valladolid for this "purification" beach party.
If I'm being honest, there are large portions I do not remember of this long, long night. But one of my favourite elements was the fire pit. Before I had the chance to read the wikipedia article about San Juan, Juan Carlos explained the fire pit ritual as we strolled around on the beach. As we stood by the firepit, we watched people run and jump across the 10-foot diameter. "This is ritual," Juan Carlos said. "You jump over the fire for purification", to put your mistakes, your sins, your regrets behind you. Not such a crazy idea. I thought about it on our way back, as we weaved through the hundreds of Spaniards. As we passed by one group of people, Juan Carlos ahead of me leading the way, my friend jumped over the group's campfire. Without thinking, I jumped too, clearing it.
Juan Carlos high fived me. "We are purified!"
Maybe it was the wine, but I felt like jell-o for a second and felt it to be true. Regardless of whether or not, jumping over burning flames does any psychological or behavioral good, I know this to be real: the past is in the past, I've decided to leave it there. There is no point regretting things I have done, or thinking on them too much. I've learned from them, and that is enough. Thanks to my time here, thanks to my adventures, and thanks to Bailey's and kalimotxos, I think I will be doing things a lot differently from now on.
I look a little different. I feel a lot different. I almost want to re-introduce myself to people I have known for years. Hopefully, though, my old loved ones will see the change themselves, and they'll think, not half bad, living teepecal Espanish.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ohhhhh Valenciaaaa!!

The neat thing about Valencia, besides being a great Decemberists song, is that it proves the "picture's worth a thousand words" adage. The thing about this city is that there are few better ways to experience than with your two eyes and a camera.

Like Sevilla, Valencia is one of those places you have to experience with all five of your senses. Your smell you'll need for the orange trees on the streets and the smell of the central market and the amazing aquarium. Your hearing you'll need to try and make sense of the Valencian dialect, which with its combination of Spanish, French and Catalan sounds, is quite pretty. Touch comes in handy for peeling those oranges (I am obsessed).

One of my favourite sights ever: pipi can. Valencia is a really
green city, and its cleanliness adds to its appeal.

But of course, if you want to go to Valencia, you'll need your taste buds for the best oranges you'll ever have, the surreally sweet horchata (a sweet, milkshake type drink made from a plant root+water, sugar), and of course the pa-YEA-YEAH!! But since I can't really describe fully the taste of this gorgeous town, I'll have to settle for a close second: pictures.

Valencia is really a visual city. Its tourist appeal mainly comes from its array of architectural sites from different centuries. So this post is going to be a little different.
the Mediterranean

Central Market/ Mercat Central

this Japanese spider crab at the aquarium was so cool. Even though the lighting was bad, I lucked out. This one froze right as I took the picture, looking like he's posing.

Hey, tour guide. Paolo taking cityscapes.

Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias.

Manta-ray feeding.

Sha-sha-sha-Sha-sha-sha-SHARKS!! EVERYBODY!!

Silla, countryside

tourguides Hector and Paolo on the way to the sea

Saturday, May 29, 2010

O Espain Pt 2

Today I had another one of those "hey, man, I'm in Spain" realisations. I was walking home from the grocery store with my friend, and as we walked by a man sitting at a terrace cafe, his dog sniffed us. As we walked away, I heard the old man say grumble at his pet, "Duke, you can't just go crazy every time a pretty girl walks by, geez!" Only in Spain!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Man Edition Part II--The 7 (ok, 8) Deadly Habits of Spanish Men

Yesterday I was browsing a local dating website I have an account on. To clarify, I am not looking for a relationship--much less one sparked by wifi and keyboards--but after hearing countless stories about it from my Spaniard friends, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. And if I'm honest with myself, looking at the profile photos of the nation's eligible bachelors is my new favourite way to kill time.

Within an hour of making an account (and this is purely for kicks) my inbox was filled with messages and, as I skimmed them, I couldn't help but laugh. And that's when I paused to read one that caught my eyes. It read something like "Hola, Rubia, I really would like to meet you" before the writer asked me if I'd be willing to perform certain acts I don't feel like repeating.

As I thought about how to word a witty rejection, it occured to me to write a letter to Spanish men as a whole and relieve myself of the many feelings I have concerning these strange, elusive creatures. So if I had to write an epistle to all Spaniards it might look something like this:

Esteemed Spanish Men:

I have spent over 4 months living in the wild of your habitat, you elusive creatures. During which time, I have carefully noted your walk, your talk, and of course your good looks. Gorgeous! Crikey! But after taking a closer gander, I have observed your comportment and noted that you are indeed stranger than I could have ever imagined, and I'm not quite sure I always approve. The following points are my scientific observations and suggestions concerning the evolutionary improvement of your species:

1. For one thing, my name is NOT Rubia. I'll admit, this one is partly my fault for turning around and looking back at you when I hear "RUBIAAAA" being shouted at me down the street. I'm sorry, I'll try to stop. But I would like to go back to being called what my mother intended: Veronica. Vero will do in a pinch.

2. My name isn't "Guapa" either. Trust me, Spaniards, you are preaching to the choir on this one.

3. Pants in colours better sutied to sorbets and other tropical desserts are not under any circumstances a practical choice of legwear. Also please refrain from wearing rooyal blue rugby shirts with red (acceptable) trousers. You look like a fruit salad (and it makes me hungry at inconvenient times).

4. Speaking of fruit, you men have broken my gaydar. As if your lisp, your flamboyant trousers weren't enough, you insist of public displays of affection with your fellow varones. Being a rubia myself, I can't help but be a little insulted when you'd rather hold the hand of some guy named Jesus instead.

5. Also, why do so many of you shave your legs? This is something that just does not fit in my brain. I do not enjoy being prickled by the stubble of your growing calf hairs. I shudder at the memory of my friend's story about the time she came face-to-face (so to speak) with a landing strip. I just picture a gaggle of Javier Bardems watching me walk down the street, all of them holding hands and their freshly shaved chests gleaming in the sun. All of them laughing at the Neanderthal woman who is hairier than they are. And frankly, your rumoured hairiness was part of the tourist attraction for me. I had heard tales that you had bristling arm hair and beards for days! Way to disappoint, guys.

6. You do not know how to drive, and don't try to convince me otherwise. If I had a Euro for every time I've nearly flown through your windshield, I could buy you a new car. I admire you for driving stick (it's actually kind of sexy), but even my 16-year-old sister knows how to use a turn signal.

7. I don't care how many times you emphasize it, but aceite (olive oil) is not "muy sano" (very healthy). If I had a euro for every time you did this, I could buy you a Lipitor prescription and some cooking spray.

8. Mullets: NO.

But for all your faults and all the ways you stray from the Antonio Banderas mystique, I guess you have some redeeming qualities. For one thing, though it may take me days (sometimes weeks) to confirm your sexual orientation, you are largely confident in your sexuality. I dig your courage to wear loud clothing, that you can hold your wingman's hand or touch his breast, that you don't feel the need to act like a caveman in front of me to prove your masculine mettle.

For another thing, you are amazing cooks. The best paella I ever had? Made by a man. Who taught me to make Spanish tortilla? My friend Juan Carlos. Your ability to feed me delicious food (even if drenched in aceite) is a beautiful thing.

Thirdly, you respect your mothers. This is particularly admirable, because most of you live with yours. God knows I have not the patience to live with mine. But I will be the first to tell you that there is nothing more attractive than a man who respects the woman who raised him.

And really, there are the little things too. The way you say "teepecal Espaneessh". The fact that you blow dry your hair more often than I do. The way you mispronounce the word "egg" (ech). That all of you apparently shop for earrings in the same coconut-wood-jewellery store. That you teach me your slang, and then tell me how good my Spanish is getting. That you kiss on two cheeks to say hello. The hairy awesomeness of your shapely beards (when you do have them). The fact that I can walk home alone at night instead of calling a cab. That you are always gentlemen without being pushy. Sigh, I guess, even when you call me Rubia it is sometimes cute.

I have drawn up mixed data in my purely scientific observations of you, but ultimately I have concluded:

Spanish men, you are the best men.

Love (love love love), Veronica

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

O Espain

Today I was walking home from downtown, waiting for the light to turn green at Plaza del Mio Cid. As I waited, I squinted into the sun and stared at the back of Spain's Braveheart/Hercules/Robin Hood, I had one of those moments where I realised "Hold, I'm in Spain". Every time I've travelled before, I've always had this feeling of being outside myself somehow. But the transition to Spanish life was so fluid I hardly even noticed. And here I was, staring at the national hero riding off into the horizon and thinking, "you go, Cid, you go."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Behind the Scenes

You know how people with big hair say it's "where I keep my secrets"? Well, I feel sort of the same about the poofy, damaged spools of blonde hair covering my head. My hair can get so wild when I wake up, my friends refer to it as "sex hair" or "the poodle". And now that it is getting hot in Burgos, it only gets wilder. But I digress. On this fine Monday morning, I took the time to deep-condition my hair, which I'd put through the wringer over the past few days. As I stood bent over my bathroom sink rinsing it free of conditioner, I was thinking about the reason my hair needed some special treatment to begin with. And the reason wasn't great sex. I'd been straightening, curling and teasing my hair for a part I was playing in a short film.
a horribly appropriate still from our production, WRONG
For the final project in my Film class, it was my assignment to write, shoot, and produce a short film with a group of classmates. My fellow Bostonian Sima and I joined a group consisting of our classmates Isabel, Juan, and Juan Carlos, who quickly became our amigos. As I thought about the four grueling days of night shoots, hectic schedules, and wardrobe malfunctions I realised how lucky I was to be here at that moment: hunched like Quasimodo and half-dead. But in Spain.
with my co-star Amiran, who is Georgian originally, but who cares
I've come to realise that coming to Burgos to participate in an immersion program so obscure that my own university's renowned international relations department doesn't even know it exists ... was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made. There are times that I wished I lived in a bigger city, like Madrid. But not only have I begun to appreciate the quirks of little Burgos, I take into account the unique opportunity I've had here.

For one thing, my castellano (español for español) has improved from the level of a slightly stupid five-year-old's to practicamente fluido. I still need to learn some situational vocabulary, but if I tried to count the number of words I have learned in addition to my newfound mastery of the vosotros form, my head would explode.

For another thing, and this being the main reason, I think of my Spanish friends. And this morning in particular, I was thinking about my Film group and our project. Being in a program of 3 American girls, we can tend to get tired of being together 100% of the time and get a bit snippy. And while being in a group of 20 American students (like in other study abroad programs) would be fun, it's been a really wild ride so far making friends with the teepeecal Espanissh.

We started out as classmates and ended up as housemates/pets/family and above all, friends. By the time we had to shoot the production, Sima and I had been sharing a mattress in Juan Carlos and Isabel's living room, dubbed ourselves their pets, made a giant American breakfast for a group of 8, and started calling Juan Carlos "Mom". It goes without saying we're very close.

* see footnote

The next time I have a calimocho, I'll be sure to toast to any given experience I've had with my co-stars/writers/producers. I now know how to make a Spanish tortilla (potato omelette), thanks to Juan Carlos. I've developed a mental rolodex of curse words and slang. And I'm never going to forget the muy interesante night our group and their housemates took us out to a teepeecal Espanissh joint called Patillas. With its walls plastered with newspaper clippings, wallet-sized ID photos, and mounted guitars, Patillas had character. As we sipped 1Euro Mahou's a man played guitar while a woman sang Spanish folk songs. And pretty soon, the whole bar was singing and clappign right along with them, requesting encore after encore. We ended up sharing a table with a middle-aged ballet instructor named Blanca. The woman defined hot mess as she drunkenly yet gracefully handed out her business card to us. All of 5 feet tall, she had three times my constitution for beer, so naturally, we all got along well. When the ancient bartender waved a picket sign that said "a la puta calle" (Get the fuck out!), we invited Blanca to come with us. The next stop was a rockabilly bar where Blanca and I decided we shared one soul. At the end of the night, we all exchanged phone numbers with our middle-aged reincarnated Spanish Tinkerbell.
One of my favourite photos ever, a very intense still I'm super proud of

That was only two weeks ago, but it has felt like forever considering how hard we've been working. The past 4 days have been non-stop line-memorizing, filming, and editting. Early mornings involved filming at Historical Burgos locations, such as the Gothic Cathedral or pilgrims' hostels. Late nights involved filming dinner over tapas and a brutal fight scene. Several brief scenes took hours to film if there were too many people in the street or one actor had trouble with his or her lines. And on the second day of shooting, someone forgot to pack the most important prop and we were stalled by over 90 minutes. After 4 days of stifling this exhausting assignment, we wrapped at 1 a.m. last night, set a date for the premier party, and said goodnight before going our separate ways to bed. All for a film we've calculated to be less than 10 minutes long.

Now on the morning after, I'm not just washing the grime of hard work but a little glamour of partaking in the film industry. What I do want to leave in my tangled mop of blonde, though, is the memory of being a part of something longer-lasting than a calimocho or a digital photograph. For the same reason that I have developed a lisp, consider clapping an art form, and drink Bailey's at lunchtime: because I've got reasons to call Spain home.
* photo courtesy of fellow blogger Sima Kalmens. To see her Spain/travel blog go to

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Denmark is for Brothers

I AM sterdam. Or at least I was for a little over two sweet, sweet days that I spent getting an overview of Holland. I've made a mental note to come back, and hope that Tobias and I cross paths one day again. But as sad as I was to leave Utrecht on April 10th, I was more excited to go to Copenhagen.

For one thing, my obsession with Scandinavia would finally come to fruition by travelling there. And for another, my brother from another mother, Jason, is studying there this semester. In Copenhagen, no less, which I discovered was a beautiful, colourful city full of well-dressed Vikings, Polish-vodka-peddling dance clubs, and more bicycles than my poor ass could handle. In short, Kobenhavn is for lovers. Or brothers. Thanfkully, my brother Jason was an excellent tourguide and thanks to two trusty bicycles (ok, mine wasn't so trusty) I saw more of the city in four days than I could have in a week on foot.

Kirk--Danish for Church. From the top of a gold domed Church, Jason and I overlook the City. Here behind us you can see the Free State of Christiania.

Copenhagen (pronounced KOO-ben-haun in Danish) from the spire on Vor Frelsers Kirk

My brother is fancy. Even when he climbs trees and nearly falls into rivers.

So two guys walk into the Marble Church... Jason on the right and Mar on the left.

Jason waits for an episode of Will & Grace to load on megavideo.
When he is awake, Jason is rather dapper. Here he is with his trusty bike.
My bike's chain kept falling off, but up until the last day, it got the job done.
The Free State of Christiania from outside. Inside, though I couldn't take
pictures on Pusher Street on pain of death, I did get to walk around, spend
time with my friends and sip on an elderflower soda in one of the bars.

My second night in Copenhagen, Jason cooked dinner for me and Mar.
He looked quite dapper (again) in his apron, which looked like this:
Dinner (or at least one dish) looked like this. Why yes, that would be
a baked pear topped with goat cheese on top of a fresh salad.
I daresay it's even fancier than Jason's apron.

The Sky looks like a painting here.

Below, my first Danish. With my hand next to it for reference.
Best and worst experience of my life. I'm sure my cholestrol
will thank me when I hit forty-five years.

Inside the Art Gallery. The sculptures in this museum--ranging from impressive
collections of Gree and Etruscan pieces to things much more modern--were the pri-
vate collection of the founder of Carlsberg (yes, like the beer). This man passed the
collection onto the city of Copenhagen provided the city built a decent building to house it.
And here you have this museum.

At the museum: Jason with his friend Stephanie.
I love this picture.

a Leaf

Obviously partying was the first thing on the agenda. This is Jason at
Student House on our first night.

and the view from Jason's room. This view will be (is) sorely missed.