So, here I am, sitting in my adorable red and white room in Doña Adela’s apartment. What a relief to arrive and be given such generous accommodations: I’ve got an armoire, lots of shelf space, a desk, a lovely twin bed, A FAN!, television and stereo. Down the hall are my siblings’ (Laura and Miguel Angel) rooms, each kept impeccable by Adela who still makes their beds even though they’re in their twenties.
On top of siblings, we’ve got a dog (a sweet old whippet that they found on the streets). No idea what its name is, however, except that it vaguely ends in “-lo”. Not even sure if it’s a boy or girl. These are the new types of mysteries present in my life due to my somewhat limited communication skills. As I told one of my friends: it’s very humbling to not be able to speak like a fully-functional human being. It makes some familiar situations into a challenge, from opening a bank account to opening the door of the bank (you have to be buzzed in; it’s a pull not a push, etc.) But almost hourly I’m introduced to something new, which is definitely keeping things interesting, and just what I wanted from this experience.
After two days of solitude in the city, the rest of the students showed up. In “first day of kindergarten” fashion they all arrived at the school on orientation day with their madres in tow to help them with directions, eyelids heavy with jetlag. During a morning full of academic and administrative information sessions we were introduced to the faculty and staff, all of whom are vibrant and friendly; you can tell almost immediately that they’re a very tight group, poking fun at one another in front of us and whispering and giggling during the presentation; definitely a more laid-back atmosphere than some of my previous academic experiences.
Later that evening we were broken up into small groups and taken around the old city on a walking tour. This central area of the city is much different from where I live (more of the University area, on the way out of town), with its winding cobblestone streets and plazas antiguas. The cathedral at the heart of city is gorgeous and is comprised of different wings built in different years, thereby featuring a wide variety of architectural styles. We also saw more modern sites such as the central market (with a gorgeous stained glass façade and vaulted ceilings inside) and the Avenida de la Paz, a street whose modernista buildings are legally protected from being destroyed or altered in any way. The tour ended at the bullring, and from there my group decided to get a pre-supper snack (keep in mind this is around 8pm; supper isn’t until 9:30 at my house) of gelato and sangria. After dinner we agreed to meet up again to “make fiesta” as they say here, also known as having a drink, going out. Definitely a more comfortable way to get to know one another.
More bonding happened the next day when we boarded a bus headed to Peñíscola, a seaside city that is home to a stunning castle “of Muslim origin,” as the brochure reads. It was later the home of Papa Luna, one of the popes involved in the Great Schism (history buffs: is that the correct name of this event?), a fifteenth century debate in which multiple men claimed to be the pope of the Catholic church, causing a great rift in the church and its members. From the roof of the castle you could see all the town below, surrounded by the gorgeous aqua waters of the Mediterranean sea. Of course our one day trip to the beach was accompanied by the one day of bad weather in Valencia, so the rain prevented us from truly enjoying the beach, even though we did sit there for a few hours with our bagged lunches. After crashing on the bus and a light supper, the group met up again for another night on the town, this time coordinated by the school at a bar in the Carmen district. Much like Paris’ Latin Quarter, this area is very old and bohemian, and a great place for nightlife. Even though we Americans greatly outnumbered the regulars in the joint, this locale gave us a better look at the Spanish social scene. At some point however we’ll need to start speaking in Spanish to one another. That will come later, I guess.
And now here I am on Sunday, one week down, hundreds more to go. Classes officially start Tuesday, so I’ll be sure to fill y’all in about those during my next installment of these notes. I guess that means back to the grindstone, but something tells me that this won’t be so bad. I’m just trying to follow the advice they are so fond of giving here in Valencia: “no te precupes” (don’t worry!).