Sunday, January 18, 2009

A week of Spanish Beauty

This week was full of classes. We’ve gotten more into a routine and it’s been nice to get used to everything, but doing homework is definitely not my favorite thing. Luckily though we don’t get that much and I only have one class a day and no place else I have to be [like a job] so it’s mostly just play time.

MONDAY: We went to class and then did homework for most of the afternoon. Monday nights we have Institute, and our class is taught by Faustino Lopez, who has some church position because they call him Elder Lopez, but we’re not sure what. The class is the history of the LDS church in Spain and it’s going to be really interesting I think. The first class was all about writing down your personal history and it was really cool, he showed us tons of journals he filled up and told us that not keeping a journal is saying “No soy importante.” I was really glad that I’ve been keeping a pretty good journal ever since I got here. After that we had FHE and our group went to the Browns house, where we had a short lesson, played Murder in the Dark, and ate pastries. We went home and went to bed.

TUESDAY: I ran in the morning! I was really happy about it but I didn’t go very far. After I showered my metabolism was still in high gear so I got dressed for the day in not my warmest clothes, thinking it wasn’t that cold outside. Wrong. It started snowing as soon as I left the house but I didn’t have time to go back inside to change. After class we walked around and took some pictures and it was really pretty but I do hate having wet feet. We were considering going into Madrid but decided against it because of the snow so we just did some homework and went to the mall that is like four inches from our house. I bought shoes for €5! That was all. And I’m really excited that I just found that Euro symbol. We downloaded some of our homework from Blackboard at the Browns and went to bed.

WEDNESDAY: I woke up feeling a little sick but luckily I didn’t get any worse the rest of the day. I took the 10:30 bus instead of the 10:45 bus that always comes late so I was on time to class. After class we went looking for a library and found one in the college of Philosophy so we did some of our homework there. We came home and had a super fast lunch so we could catch the train to Madrid! We were planning on looking for the temple just to walk around and see it and then go to a museum that is free on Wednesdays, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. We did both of those things, with a lot of metro-riding in between. And we only ended up having half an hour at the museum so I didn’t see everything I wanted to but we also found out that it’s always free for students so I’m definitely going back sometime. Then we went to a chocolate shop and had “chocolate y churros” which is apparently pretty common here. It was delicious. When we got home we had probably the most delicious dinner I’ve had so far. We had tortilla española and then just the normal bread and orange, but for some reason it was super satisfying, perhaps because we did A LOT of walking. That was a fun day and I had a really good time with the girls we were out with.

THURSDAY: I went running again, farther than ever, but it caused me to be late to class. This is why: we are only allowed to shower after 10 am. When I go running I definitely have to shower so I wait until 10, but then I can’t catch the 10:30 bus but I can be ready by the 10:45 bus, which would be fine if that bus would ever come on time. But it does not. And when it comes at 10:53 I am definitely late for school. But if Professor Brown ever tries to give me any guff about it I’m just going to tell him that if he’s forcing us to live by the Spanish system of using busses, then I’m going to live by the Spanish system of always being late. Foolproof, yeah? After class we did some homework until we went to the mall again, this time with some other girls, not for ourselves :) Then we went to the Browns to download more homework from Blackboard and also to try to figure out how to get to the Rock of Gibraltar next weekend. We failed on that front and I’m a little disappointed but we might still go if we can figure it out or we might go somewhere else way cool, like Portugal or Valencia or something. When we came home we had these tiny fried fish for dinner and it wasn’t that bad until I realized I was eating the spines and then I got totally grossed out and only ate like five. And they thought I didn’t like it but I just said I wasn’t hungry and really, it was just really hard to pick out the bones, the taste wasn’t that bad. Luckily I had some bread and yogurt and it’s not necessary to eat a big meal at almost 10 pm anyway, so it’s all good. And one meal out of a whole bunch that I haven’t liked is actually pretty good. Homework, bed.

FRIDAY: This was a most excellent Spanish day. Our whole group met to go to the Prado, which is a really important Spanish museum with tons of famous paintings in it. I really enjoyed the Reina Sofia and thought that I might not like the Prado as much because it’s older stuff, more classic, but there are some AWESOME paintings in there. Goya is one of my new favorite artists. We were in the museum for about three hours and started to experience “museum fatigue” so we left, ate our bocadillos [what our madres call the lunches they give us when we’re not going to be home at lunchtime] and found El Parque del Buen Retiro, which is comparable to Central Park in New York City. It was a really nice weatherwise and the park was beautiful. It was a really fun afternoon just wandering around and taking pictures and being outside in the warmth. I removed my coat for one of the first times since we’ve been here and it was splendid. We found this little pond where you can rent boats to paddle around and probably next month we’re going back with a picnic [probably just our bocadillos, haha] and we’re definitely doing that. We went home, Emmaleigh and I so we could shower, and then a few of us went back into Madrid to an Institute activity. When we found the temple on Wednesday we also found some CES missionaries [a senior couple] who told us they have activities at 8:30 every Friday night so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be kind of awkward since the activity was a drawing class and everyone already knew each other and the people I was sitting near didn’t seem very interested in getting to know us. We might go to other activities in the future, but we’ll see.

SATURDAY: The day we went to Cuenca! Cuenca is an absolutely lovely fairly small town that is about 2.5 hours away from Madrid by train. We got up SUPER early [which I was not happy about] and rode the train from Alcalá to Madrid and then from Madrid to Cuenca. I really wanted to see a windmill on the way, since we were traveling through La Mancha, but I unfortunately did not. It was totally okay though because the town was awesome anyway. There are these hanging houses [“casas colgadas”] that are built on the edge of cliffs and part of it hangs off the side and they are so cool. We walked up and up and up to get to the houses and on the way we encountered this guy selling braided bracelets and necklaces with animal teeth in them and there was this stupidhot guy hanging out with them who aided us in our purchases because he spoke English. He was my first Spanish love and it broke my heart to leave him but I don’t doubt I’ll find a new one another day. When we got to something that seemed like the top we found an abstract art museum that was in one of the hanging houses and it was SO COOL. My favorite pieces of art were by Eusepio Sempere, they were supposed to be landscapes but they were just different colored lines on black paper and they looked so cool. There was also this exhibit in the basement that we almost missed that was a combination of poetry by Octavio Paz and art by Robert Motherwell, apparently they were friends with Motherwell illustrated parts of Paz’s poems and it was so awesome. Some people didn’t like the poetry… I loved it. The house was the perfect venue for the art and it was super pleasant. After that we ate lunch and wandered more uphill because the stupidhot Cuencan man told us that we could find the best views by just walking up whenever possible so we eventually encountered this awesome cliff where we went out and just took tons of pictures. After that we tried some fried lamb intestines, zaraja, because it’s a Cuencan specialty so we had to. It wasn’t terrible but I probably wouldn’t eat it again. We spent some more time wandering around the old town, which was the part that was above everything else, and when we had a couple hours before our train left we went down to the new town, where the train station was, and just wandered around there. We were pretty tired but it was a really satisfying day. The train ride home was pretty bumpy and we all wanted to get home but I definitely slept well that night.

SUNDAY: We got up and went to church not having showered since Friday evening, which I wasn’t very happy about but we missed shower time all day Saturday so we had no choice. Church was way better than last week, I understood basically everything and I felt edified. Our Relief Society lesson was about the sealing keys being restored in the Kirtland temple and I had a manual so I could kind of follow along. Sunday School was about the precursors to the Restoration and I was SO happy because I had learned everything already in my church history class so the lesson was really easy to follow. I wanted to answer every question but I didn’t really know the words in Spanish so I just listened contentedly. Sacrament Meeting was also really good, I understood the topic of every talk so then it was easy to pick out words that I knew and string them together. The chapel was packed, which was surprising after last week, but it was really cool. Next week Emmaleigh and I want to talk to more people because that’s a really good opportunity to practice Spanish and it will be cool to get to know people in the ward. When we got home the table in the living room was set for lunch and we all ate together, Irene and Paco, who are the parents, Javier and Raquel, who are the kids who live in the house, and Ana, who is their oldest, plus her husband and son, both named Nacho [hahaha]. I was intimidated that we were all together and afraid they were going to want me to talk a lot but actually they didn’t really talk to us at all so it was fine. It was also our first multiple-course meal. Other students have been talking about how they’ve had three course meals and we were surprised because we haven’t at all, but today we sat down and they had sautéed eggplant and potatoes and I ate some and was satisfied and then they brought out this huge seafood dish and gave me SO much fish & clams in some kind of broth. It was really, really good though. I was kind of surprised because I don’t normally eat fish but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably change that habit. Obviously after we ate that they brought out dessert, the bowl of fruit, and so I ate a banana and went upstairs extremely satisfied.

A note about the food: So far I’ve pretty much enjoyed the food I’ve had. I’ve been lucky; a lot of people have complained a lot. It’s a pretty common conversation topic, “what did you guys have for lunch?” Our host mother, Irene, makes pretty varied meals and generally everything tastes good. What’s funny to me, though, is how they refuse to accept that we eat some things differently in the US. Whenever we try to explain they just brush it off like we’re crazy. But they eat cookies for breakfast and eggs for dinner! It’s not that I’m saying our way is better, just that it to us it seems like we’re being really accepting of their culture and they aren’t accepting ours at all. But it’s fine. They’ve never been to the US and I can’t imagine them ever coming, so they can keep their fish and bread and peeled fruit. And I will gladly accept their paella and Spanish tortillas :)

This week was really great and I’m really enjoying being here. It’s hard at times just because some things are really different than my normal life but I’m really glad I’m challenging myself in this way and I’m having a blast.

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