Category Archives: Spain 2010

This Last Week

Has been a very good one. JMU left Salamanca on Sunday, but, be it from some kind of immaturity or simply a love for this place, I couldn’t stand to leave so soon, so I have spent the last week enjoying myself: walking these beautiful streets and talking with my friends.

The Friday following exams was both a relief and a letdown. I may never make it to Latin America after this–after telling us the exam could be on anything at all that we had studied, even the most minute of details, after I had spent the whole night and gotten up early to study, consuming enough coffee to choke a horse, our civilization professor asked us only the most general and simplest questions.

Friday night we had our farewell dinner, at which my literature professor asked me which bars and clubs I had grown familiar with. And why I hadn’t before told her I shared her love for tombs.

Sorry, Eva.



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All Things Considered

Last night I had dinner with my friends from Germany, who made a delicious curry, oddly enough.Today didn’t end up being a day trip as I had hoped; rather, I have finished studying for my Thursday exams and may actually get ahead of myself for Friday. Ah well.

Carolin and Daniel asked me what things I liked and disliked about Salamanca. On both sides it was a relatively short list:

I like the way salmantinos view family. Family is the most important part of your life, and meal times especially are a way of bringing family together. An activity so basic as eating is fundamental here. I love studying at the university. It’s still mind boggling to me that my school is almost 800 years old, and the traditions are really beautiful. And I love the fierce pride the salmantinos have for their city. “Hombre,” Victor, one of the teachers at the Salesian school where I helped with English classes said to me , “no sabes que Salamanca es la ciudad mas bella del mundo?”

And it is true that Salamanca is very beautiful. To say I love this city is to say that I love her, not as a tourist does, but because I know her streets. I know the small corners as well as the Plaza Mayor. I see the same people on the roads every day. And if I come back to visit, I will still know her, and some part of me will feel at home.

That said, there are a number of things I dislike, not necessarily specifically about salamancan culture, but perhaps Spanish culture in general. In a few ways I do fit the American stereotype, and one of those ways is that I HATE wasting time. Spaniards are the masters. They work very little: average hours are 10-2 and then 5-8. And good luck on weekends. Better said, I hate siesta.

I also hate the way they treat foreigners. Part of this is that to some extent Spain is still not completely recovered from Franco’s isolationism, and the culture is still very insular. But I’m tired of being stared at, and I’m tired of being made to feel stupid when they roll their eyes if I stumble over a word or two.

And I hate the way we’re treated by a few of our professors. I have had great experiences in some of my classes. I loved communications and business especially. But by and large the impression I get is that they think we’re stupid. They think we can’t speak Spanish, they think we don’t understand them, and they don’t respect our class time–it’s very common for them to be late, every day. If I was in class with actual USAL students, it might be different. But I’m not.

The major educational difference between Spain and the United States is that in the U.S., students are encouraged to ask questions and to discuss and debate–with each other and with their professors. But here, you are expected to sit down, shut up, and take notes. If you ask a question they’ll answer, but they will also look at their watches, as if to imply that you are wasting their valuable time.

Do the likes outweigh the dislikes? Has this experience been educationally worth it?

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I am a Rock

I am not, however, an island. I’m very much enjoying spending some time with my friends from Mexico and Holland this week. And tonight my friends from Germany have invited me to their apartment for dinner and a movie. They’ll make rice and chicken, and I’ll eat a little of the chicken because I’ll be too embarrassed to tell them I’m vegetarian…I’ve been eating a bite or two of meat every couple of weeks here, just out of curiosity, (it’s not helpful that I’m dating a decidedly non-vegetarian) and every time I do, I think, “Why did I do that?” Because it never tastes as good as I think it will.

I have vanquished my three essays and my first final, and tomorrow is smack dab in the middle of the week of Puente, with no exams and I’m hoping for  a day trip…

But I digress. For culture’s sake, here are a few of the unique meats Spain has to offer. Hint: all of them come from pig.

Chorizo: This is sausage. It’s harder than sausage in the U.S. and according to my room mate, better.

Jamon iberico: Iberian ham. It comes thin sliced, like prosciutto, and with a similar flavor, if I recall the taste of prosciutto correctly. (I do recall that I thought it tasted like a dirty shoe.)

Jamon serrano: Spain’s most expensive ham. It can cure for decades and sell for up to 100 euros a kilo. Which is approximately six million dollars the way the US economy is going.

Morcilla: Like the Irish, the Spanish have a taste for blood. Pig’s blood sausage, that is.

Jetas: Cooked pig cheeks. Our assistant director had them deep fried, complete with the hair.

There are many small shops here called jamonerias, which only sell ham. One walks past them and is greeted with the smell of dirty feet. And the sight of ham thighs hanging, complete with hoof, and, at this time of year, a small red Christmas bow as a garter.

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Portugal, or, reflections

Since My Personal Francophone is off in Portugal until Thursday night, whilst I while away the hours writing papers and studying for my five final exams, I thought it appropriate to do a little blogging about my own trip to Lisbon back in September.

I wrote a lot about the trip there, but close to nothing about the actual experience.

As I’ve said, the hotel in Lisbon was a little sketchy. The beach at Cascais, where we went the next day, was really nice. It was warm and sunny, and I curled up on top of a rock full of tide pools (my first ever!) to write in my journal. Sadly, the water was too cold to swim for long.

After Cascais the day took a definite downturn. It’s not Joaquin’s fault. But he dropped us off at a little town called Sintra, where the royal family used to summer, and sort of…left us there. He was with us, but there was no actual agenda, and as none of us had done our reasearch we had no idea what there was to see or do.

Not much, as it turned out. Sintra may have had a glorious past, but all it has to show for it now are a series of very nice views, a shop carrying a particular pastry known as “God’s bread,” and a natural history museum with two pointy towers that reminded me of a strangely shaped bra.

After dinner that night (I was so hungry I welcomed McDonald’s, which is far more expensive in Europe than the States), my classmates discussed whether or not to return to the club they had gone to last night, where the moment they stepped out of the cab they were approached by a man who attempted to sell them crack cocaine.

I was kind of sick at the time, so I got in bad and watched more MTV with German subtitles until I fell asleep.

The following day, we visited Lisbon. We should have just gone there the day before, because it was absolutely wonderful. We walked to the top of Saint George’s castle, which has breathtaking views, and then saw an opera concert in the park. We lunched on bread and Nutella in the port and visited the Medical History museum–where I discovered I can get the general idea when I read Portuguese, though with some of the exhibits I wasn’t sure I wanted to.  Then we took a (very short!) trolley tour–literally five minutes, as we failed to realize we got on near the end of the line–and got kebap–Lisbon, Berlin and Salamanca have fantastic kebap; how did I not know this existed before this trip!–and headed home in the sunshine.

Anyway, it was overall a really nice trip. And what I didn’t enjoy then I can laugh about now. I hope he and his friends have a wonderful time–and I really hope he brings me back some of that bread. (It’s delicious.) 😉

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My Coffee is on Fire

One thing I love about Spanish professors: they tell you where and what all the good alcohol and food are.

“Go to Doze,” Javier said. “The mojitos are the best in Salamanca.”

“Go to Leman’s,” Javier’s wife Marta said. “You’ll like it. It’s very guay.”

“Get a carajillo,” Eva said. “But not before my exam.”

Last night Salamanca snowed heavily. “I’m not in the mood for going out,” I said to my friends, “but I think I want a spiked coffee, if you want to go get a drink.”

So my friends and I went out for a drink at a café named for a French film about cannibalism.

The waiter brought me a cup of espresso and a packet of sugar.

Then he brought me a spoon.

Then he brought me a small metal pitcher of cognac and set it on fire.

Then he left the table.

The flames leaped for about five minutes.

When the fire went out, I examined the strange concoction. A few coffee beans and a piece of lemon peel floated on top of the bruleed alcohol.

Thank you, Eva. My curiosity is satisfied.


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Portugal this weekend?

With the Big Kahuna, also known as my Latin American Civilization essay, out of the way, only two more remain before exams. This is the only weekend on which my European friends have decided to travel as a group. They’re going to Lisbon, which I loved in September, and they’ll be there until Wednesday, and…life hates me.

More specifically, my art professor hates me. Traditionally in Salamanca, December 3-8 is a holiday. It’s called Puente (literally, “bridge”). December 8 is kind of a big deal–it’s the day of the signing of the current Spanish Constitution. There are not supposed to be classes on Monday the 6th or Tuesday the 7th.

“I’m going to take advantage of the Puente,” he said, “and I won’t be here to administer your exam on Tuesday.”

I perked up. Perhaps this meant I could go after all!

“However,” he said, “you still have to be here to take your exam at the regular hour on Tuesday.”

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Lunch with Ricardo

Tuesday I came home for lunch to find Ricardo sitting at the living room table. Maya was out with her family, who´d come to visit, but where was Mari?

“Mari’s gone to Ciudad Rodrigo,” Ricardo said, “so it’s just us.”

We started tucking into our pasta with abandon, me because the Spanish idea of breakfast is a cup of coffee and a cracker, Ricardo because all he has for breakfast is a glass of milk. That in itself, culturally speaking, is odd–Spaniards consider the drinking of a glass of milk to be something a child would do, and no one older would drink milk unless it was in coffee or tea. (Oh, how I miss American pasteurization…here the milk sits on an unrefrigerated store shelf, until, as Sedaris so cleverly puts it, “it turns into cheese and is moved to another section of the store.”)

Ricardo looked at me over his pasta. “I wanted to say that we’re very fortunate to have you girls,” he said.

“We’re very fortunate to have you,” I said honestly.

“And now you’re enjoying Salamanca more,” he said.

There’s a world of explanation due for that sentence. I loved Salamanca the moment I got here, but the cultural adjustment was a bit of a challenge, and in the month before full time classes and activities began, when I hadn’t yet met my German friends or my Emory friends or my Belgian boy, there were a lot of afternoons where I took siestas simply because there was nothing else to do.

“I love it here,” I answered. “I’ll be sorry to leave.”

And it’s true. Life here has been so much more, and so different, from what I was expecting–it will be hard to leave in a little over two weeks.

“You’re in the prime of your life,” he said, ” at twenty, with the world in front of you.”

I smiled. “I know,” I said. “This is wonderful.”


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