I start my update this way only to mention that the American Rodeo has arrived in Valencia this week. So periodically throughout the past couple of days we’ve spotted these rodeo cowboys wandering past us in the streets or, (no joke), eating at the Burger King. There are some aspects of American culture I guess I’ll never be able to escape…
Over the past few days I’ve been focusing my attention on the people and places of Valencia, trying to find my niche. This quest started with a mid-week trip to the movies. I had heard about this one film called Gordos (literally: “Fatties”) by Daniel Sanchez Arévalo that had just come out; our cinema teacher at school had showed us one of his short films in class, which everyone enjoyed, so I thought it’d be interesting to see another work by him. So a few friends and I embarked on a somewhat confusing walk to the center of town, unsure of just what exactly was awaiting us at the cinema. Would we even be able to understand it? Would it be funny? Depressing? Totally artsy and incomprehensible? To our pleasant surprise it was an EXCELLENT movie on so many levels.
The plot basically centered around a weight loss group and its members, all of whom had un montón de issues (identity crises, infidelity, ambiguous sexuality, to name a few) revolving around food. I picked this one since it dealt with issue of obesity in Spain, which, after being here a few weeks and checking the people out on the street, doesn’t seem to even exist (EVERYONE here is thin/healthy). Thought it would be interesting to see the contrast (or the similarity) to the American obesity problem. And of course there was the obligatory damning statement about Fat Americans. Another interesting element was how graphically sexual the film was; somewhat similar to the level HBO likes to take their shows. But the audience didn’t seem to care; only we Americans were scandalized. I’d say a large part of what was so interesting about this evening at the movies was being a part of the audience, right alongside Spaniards (as opposed to sitting in a classroom watching a film for class, or even renting a foreign film and watching it at home). In the end, everyone loved the movie and the evening out itself, the perfect jolt of culture shock to get us through the rest of the week.
I’ve also recently been getting a taste of Spanish music. Have been to two concerts now: the first in a smoky bar right next to my apartment, accompanied by some girls from the program and Diego (my exchange partner) and his friends, and the second in another neighborhood bar where my friend’s hermano (host brother) was playing. A lot of Spaniards have told me they don’t like Spanish music, that the lyrics are really poetic and beautiful but the music itself is nothing special. I’d say that’s true. It’s much more “fun” music than anything else, but still enjoyable. These bands also had an affinity for classic American/English rock, so between both concerts I think I heard selections from CCR, Rolling Stones, AC/DC. It’s also great to hear them play what I think are the Spanish equivalent of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” and all those songs you hear in bars and everyone starts singing along to. The bar will erupt with slurred Spanish lyrics that I don’t understand but I know make people happy. So again some cultural norms span many continents.
This weekend was our first one without class on Friday (3 day weekend woohoo!) so a lot of people went out of town. This only helped me further my campaign to see more of Valencia itself: I woke up Friday morning and went to MuVIM, the Museum of Video and Illustration (I think?). It was bizarre: a somewhat shabbily put together interactive tour through the entire history of western civilization, starting with illuminated manuscripts which would be replaced by the printing press, and ending in a video montage which was meant to sum up almost everything after industrialization. The images on said montage were just looped segments from the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the Spanish Civil War, etc. etc. Guess they don’t really have high hopes for modern society? But the visit was free so I can’t say I lost anything by going. Afterwards a few friends and I walked to the Plaza de la Reina, where the Cathedral is, and climbed to the top of the cathedral’s tower. The view from the top was incredible. A lovely mid-morning adventure. To top of the weekend I went to the Museo de Bellas Artes, which houses quite a collection of famous works (Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Sorolla, etc.) and later today I’m going to try and visit the modern art museum (hoping that the impending rain won’t spoil the rather long walk there!)
now, if that isn’t a cultured weekend, I don’t know what is.