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
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