WOW how the time flies. Two weeks left of my first semester in Spain. Just as it is in the states, things are getting jam-packed as we near the end: exams to be taken, papers to be written, but also people and places to see and enjoy before saying goodbye.
In this spirit, a few of our Spanish friends organized a rather large fiesta in honor of Franco’s death which occurred on the 20th of November. This day is not recognized nationally by any means, and it was barely even mentioned in school, so the fact that we attended a celebration of this was somewhat out of the ordinary. It took place in the “OVNI CUADRADO” art gallery (which translates literally to the “Square UFO” gallery) that my friend Carlitos, a more than middle aged artist, runs. More than a second apartment than an actual art gallery, its walls are covered in murals, out of place photos from magazines, and string lights. General kitch is the theme. After an interpretive dance performance, a few of our friends hit the stage to play some music, at one point asking me to come up and sing some jazz! “When in Spain,” you could say. The final spectacle of the night was just that: a live-action cooking show in the center of the dance floor, with Carlitos himself making an enormous paella right in front of our eyes. Dressed in a sailor costume, and accompanied by a mock “faellera” girl (the equivalent of a “Little Miss” from American beauty pageants and parades) he started adding oil, peppers, garlic and onions to the pan. All seemed to be running smoothly as he flung, dramatically, a passel of octopi and mussels into the mix, but things suddenly went south. The paella pan starts tipping over (the physics behind this are still unclear to me) and seafood broth sloshes everywhere. A close save, and a sigh of relief. But again, it tips, this time definitively so, making the whole plate slip off the table and flip over, depositing sea creatures and green peppers everywhere. It starts to smell. Carlitos gets out his mop. The police show up downstairs because of a noise complaint. That’s when we made our exit, remembering the “Paella Bingo Show” party (as it was called) as one of the strangest events of the semester.
There seems to have been a lot to celebrate during the past few weeks, because shortly after the paella fiasco we were treated to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner at our school. It was not easy to get off Skype with my parents, Aunt and Uncle after catching them at the start of the Thanksgiving festivities at home. And I remember walking to the school thinking: this will not be fun. It will just make me sadder. But as the case often is when I start complaining required events, I was very pleasantly surprised (Mr. Kahuda: some things never change). The supper was held in our school in the library, where the study desks had been converted into dining tables, beckoning us with a spread of various meats, cheeses, and drinks. After a short moment of private reflection to think about what we are thankful for this year (there are so many things I don’t know if I could name them all. But for me: this entire experience, Skype, the health and happiness of my family, the loving presence y’all provide me when you respond to these, Adela my Spanish madre, a break from economic hardships, etc.) we started to chow down on the incredible buffet that had been prepared: turkey, stuffing (actual bread stuffing! I couldn’t believe it), various potato dishes (but sadly, not the roasted garlic mashed potatoes my mom whipped up this year), veggies, canned cranberry sauce (brought straight from the US by a friend’s mom who was visiting) and sweet potatoes. After supper we were served roasted pumpkin and whipped cream, an excellent and believable replacement for the pumpkin pie that cannot be found in this country. Overall, it was a great night, and I was so happy to spend it with my new group of friends, my new family.
More things gastronomic! This time the topic is cava, Spain’s equivalent to France’s champagne. A few days after the Thanksgiving feast, a few friends and I met up to go to the first cava tasting held in Valencia at the old University of Valencia campus. Stationed in the central patio of the building were dozens of wine makers and their work. For 5€ we received four tastings of our choice, accompanied by various crackers and cheeses that were being promoted as well. Not knowing anything about wine, my general plan of attack was to go over to any station manned by jovial-looking Spanish men and ask them: “¿cual es tu favorito?” (which one is your favorite?). Using what I learned from the one wine tasting I’ve been to in Israel (a locale not exactly known for its wine), I swirled and swished and enjoyed myself thoroughly, crashing by 2 hours later at the extremely early hour of 12:30am.
Now that you’ve gotten the culinary side of things, it’s on to sports: the program also provided us with FREE tickets to a soccer game this weekend to see Valencia CF go up against Lille FC from France. This activity was made possible by one of our professors who used to play for Valencia (or the minor leagues, we think) until an injury made him quit and dedicate himself to his second passion: writing poetry. He is a personal friend of many of the players, and not only got us the great seats for free, but a special chance to go on the field after the game, meet the players and ogle. Despite the rain and cold, it was a great night, made only sweeter by the promise that the next day some of these very fine jugadores (players) would join us Americans for a drink. And they did just that. Sort of. We showed up last night at the meeting spot, a noisy bar that overcharged, ogling again in wonder at so many attractive athletes in one small space. Although my friends and I did not end up leaving the club with any marriage proposals, it was still fun to rub elbows with these guys for a few hours. And at least I can say I gave Mata (the #4 ranked soccer player in the world currently) the obligatory dos besos (two kisses, the typical European greeting or goodbye).
But the weekend shenanigans don’t stop there. That was two days ago, whereas yesterday, on my way to the train station to catch a train to Madrid for the long weekend (we have another one of those lovely “puentes” which gives me 5 days off!), I got the call that the friend I was going to meet there has come down with the swine flu! Needless to say, I did not get on that train. Instead, I high-tailed it back to the school just in time to see the bi-annual theater production the students of our program put on. This year they did Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre (Blood Weddings), a tragedy that was interpreted by the students here and that was lightened up by such scenes as when Death comes out from stage right, catches the eye of her best friend playing a widow, and they both burst out laughing. You could call it a “loose” interpretation.
Besides that, I’d say y’all are all pretty well caught up now. Things are for sure winding down now, and the general tone at school is getting pretty sentimental. It seems so strange to me that only 4 months can bring people together and make them so close, but it really has. I love the friends I’ve made here, and the group dynamic in general, and I don’t want to lose any of that! But I can tell that the change is necessary and for the better; if things were to stay exactly as they are I think on some level I’d be bored. I’m glad to have a few core friends staying next semester, to help with the transition (we’re doubling in size, for starters!) and a few months here under my belt. Who knows what the next half of this year will bring!