Thursday, February 25, 2010

Last two weeks...

Now that I’ve got you on your toes (or lost you), here’s an update of the last two weeks. It’s interesting that on one hand they were really eventful and I can definitely feel my schedule filling up very quickly now that I have to study…But on the other, life is getting a little more normal for me and in a way it feels like I don’t have much to say.

I’ll start with the low point of the last two weeks…pastries. I finally gave in and indulged in a local cafeteria, whose window displays of sweets have been tugging at my collar this whole time. I didn’t a picture of the first pastry because it’s life outside the display case was only about 40 seconds long. But after walking a little farther, I realized I needed another immediately, and here’s a picture of the second one.

I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but about 10 minutes later I got the worst stomach ache of my life. It was almost crippling and I had to sit down on a bench to recuperate. I’m pretty sure my body literally can’t handle that much sugar in a 5-minute timeframe. (Stay tuned, this wouldn’t be the last debilitating encounter with Spanish sweets.)

Last Wednesday, I went out with Mark and a couple girls he met at the university; Stephanie and Enrica, who are from Brazil and Italy, respectively. We went to a cozy (and free) flamenco venue in the city center and basically just made conversation. I’m normally not someone to talk a lot with people I don’t know very well but these girls were very friendly and even more intelligent. It’s hard to realize how much emphasis is placed on learning other languages in Europe. Stephanie speaks Portuguese, Spanish, and English, and Enrica speaks Italian, Spanish, English, and some French. Mark and I were a little intimidated because we’ve only got about 1 ½ languages under our belts.

After flamenco, we went to a bar in the hippie district of Alameda and walked around for a bit and called it a night. It wasn’t terribly eventful, but it was fun and ended up running into about 3am. Like I said, I’m not the best at talking for a long time with people I don’t know, but I realized about mid-way through the night that people from all over the world have a lot more to talk about than we originally think.

Thursday I met up with my Theatre, Dance, and Arts interest group and we went to, of all places, the theatre, where we saw an hour-long performance of a spoof on popular horror films. I’m no theatre buff but it was really entertaining and even though this was in a large theatre, it was still intimate and the entire production was put on by just 2 women, who used lots of props, creativity, and I guess just stage talent to make it seem much larger. I will say that a theme I’m picking up on here in Spain is that they really like sexual jokes, not sexual innuendo, but blatant sexual jokes, which is a bit odd for some of us Americans.

Afterwards, our group went out for tapas for Nick’s birthday (at the time I had no idea who Nick was), and then went to the bar district of Alfalfa, where I met up with Mark who I’d like to commend for holding intelligent conversation with a group of 4 very attractive Spanish women.

The night ended with churros again. But like the pastries, and as if I hadn’t learned my lesson a day before, I had to get 2 orders and ended up feeling terrible for much of the next day. The good thing is I think the experience will severely reduce the amount of euros spent on churros this semester.

The weather was a bit grey last week…

Although it rained all week long, Friday brought an absolutely beautiful day and I mostly spent it reading outside and biking around. There are so many museums and monuments to see but I just couldn’t go inside on such a great day.

The weekend brought a program excursion to Granada, which was absolutely great. But There are a lot of pictures so I’ll have to make that a separate post.

This Tuesday brought another interest group activity, which was flamenco on a grand stage, with two guitars, 3 singers, percussion, and 6 dancers. I should mention that on the way to the theatre, I got so lost on my bike I had to go Lance-style on the Pyrenees to get to the theatre on time. Along the way I did find a small marginal area that houses more that a few homeless people living in tents or in cars. It’s a sad irony that in a city so beautiful, just a short walk away live thousands of homeless. Unemployment sits at around 20% and if you pay attention, you can tell. These are two pictures depicting the little forest where homeless live, and a picture from the same spot revealing the close proximity to the city.

At the theatre, the performance was great, and like all the other flamenco shows I’ve seen, I could’ve watched it and listened to it all night.

And finally, last night Mark and I met back up with Enrica and Stephanie, as well as another Brazilian student, Roberta. Enrica cooked us dinner at her apartment, where we met one of her roommates, Slavih. JFK is surely frowning in his grave as Slavih is the interesting combination of Russian and Cuban. Stephanie and Roberta can actually trace their family back to indigenous peoples of Brazil, and Enrica’s family has been in Italy for over 500 years. Sadly, Mark and I have little clue as to what we are, although I am some small portion Spanish and the name Campbell comes from Scotland. Another interesting point: it is not a myth that Italians eat a lot of pasta. Enrica, whose pasta was great, says she has it nearly every day.

Here’s a picture of our eclectic crew:

After dinner we headed to a discoteca called Caramelo near Enrica’s apartment, which was very Spanish and a great time. We randomly met up with our Spanish friends Miguel, Danny, and Alex, who we didn’t know would be there, which was really cool. I think we gained some street cred when they saw the beautiful international girls we were with. Around 3am I was past ready to go, but didn’t want to be the turd of the party so I stuck it out. But by 4am we were ready to leave at all costs. Enrica was too, but the quote from Stephanie was, “But it’s so early!”. Nonetheless, Mark and I walked back to Enrica’s apartment and then took a cab home. Called my mom at 5am my time, got the scoop, and was off to bed. To mom, dad, Han, and all my family and friends, I miss you all a lot and am getting a little tired of this one-way communication because it’s hard to know what you’re doing! But I hope all is well and you’re toughing out the cold. I'll end with a picture of my brother Santiago, sitting with his girlfriend Jessica and their baby. I tried not to be too creepy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Dog Blog

I’m going to be honest, this is not some spontaneous, flippant post that I came up with a few nights ago and thought it might be funny. I knew I was going to write this after only a few hours on the dog-laden streets here, although I had no idea of the kind of scope it would eventually grow to. Due to the number of pictures and the fact that I’ve fallen behind on every aspect of blogging, it’s taken me much too long to actually publish this.

But with that said, this is the dog blog.

Simply put, the Spanish love their dogs. There are dogs everywhere; the sidewalks, parks, in cars, sitting outside restaurants and shops, and even in bars late at night. And it’s not just the amount of dogs that is astounding, but also the distinctiveness of the dogs here. This is a gross oversimplification, but I think the three largest varieties of dogs can be labeled “Small Sweatered”, "Strange coat", and “Big and Hairy”, although such categories are a little rigid. Nonetheless it'll help me keep this organized.

Over time I’ve been collecting pictures of my favorites, and although it was a painful process going through the pictures and weeding out certain dogs that didn’t make the cut, I managed to get the number down to thirty or so that I hope you really enjoy. I may give you a brief description of what my favorite attribute of the dog is and anything that the picture didn’t capture. So basically what I’m saying is if you need to go to the bathroom or grab something to eat, do it now.

Big and Hairy:

This guy's the same breed as my dog at home, but with crazy long hair:

This breed is everywhere. I call them the Spanish Bob Marley and I think with a little care, my hair would look pretty similar:

Another Bob, but this might be my favorite dog of them all:

However, this may be the overall best snap-shot. The timing with crowd movement could not have been any better. And the best part: the only one aware of my scheme is the dog, who is clearly looking right at me (Okay the guy to my left may be a bit suspicious):

Could this dog also be confused for the infamous "Bah Bah Blacksheep"? I think so:

From the angle this may look like your standard German-Shepherd, but what you can't see are the 4 inch fangs:

I remember this one well because the owner's hair looks exactly like the dog's:

If your basement floods here in Sevilla, they use this dog to sponge up the water:

Unfortunately, this is one of the down-sides to all the dogs:

I'm not sure if it's the same dog, but I think this guy may appear later wearing a sweater:

Eye contact, genital sniffing, and butt sniffing all at once? I'm not positive he's their leader but definately held in high esteem nonetheless:

And now, Strange Coat:

Probably not a very good angle but you can see it's a leopard-coated greyhound (although the shadow looks like a kangaroo):

This black and white dog wanted me dead:

I don't like this one at all but I'm sure he's nice enough:

Maybe the owner painted on those spots:

Another leopard dog:

This dog was literally the biggest dog I've ever seen:

A great segway because we get a dog with a great coat, but also this brings us to our smaller variety:

Small Sweatered

She must wear the pants in the relationship (and the sweater):

Sweatered French bulldog. She would be french:

A personal favorite of mine because I see her waiting patiently outside this shop about every day:

Here's a glimpse of the care people give their dogs around here. The woman is pouring her little sweatered dog a bowl of water (probably about 2 euros worth) right on the main street of Sevilla:

This one's just absurd:

And now we see a sweater with a fur collar...ironic:

I'm pretty sure I've seen Harrison Ford wearing this same jacket somewhere along the line:

Doggie raincoat:

And just a classic:

I'll end with this guy because he's the rare hybrid of a big and hairy but also sweatered canine. He might also be part lion:

You’re probably asking yourselves right now if walking the streets of Sevilla is like walking in a mine field, and my answer would be that at times, yes. But that’s only on a few rare occasions, and although it makes it much harder for dogs to decide where to pee, the streets are cleaned every night.

Nonetheless, this brings me to the dog that I live with; Baxter (or Buster…It’s hard to tell). My “brother” Santiago now has a 2 week old baby to take care of, and he’s used this excuse numerous times to neglect Baxter and his walking schedule. So I’ve taken to walking Baxter every other afternoon or so, and I felt it necessary to share with you how Baxter likes to take a walk.

Walking with Baxter is kind of what I’d imagine walking with a 4 year old might be; he requires constant attention, and although communication is hard, you know something serious is going on in his head. For Baxter, I think it is his plan to pee on every pee-spot in the neighborhood and anywhere else I take him. And sometimes I think he just likes to pee on anything at all. He pees on walls, trees, bushes, grassy patches, fire hydrants, sticks, a basketball, man-holes, and a couple cars when I wasn’t paying attention.

On our last walk I decided to see how many times he could pee on one walk. The total count was 59, and I had to cut him off because it was lunchtime. Try and think about how large a number that is. I can only hope, for his sake, that he doesn’t get the same stop and go burning feeling that we do.

My friend Baxter (I caught him at an awkward moment):

The fact that this is just one dogs work begs the question, “Does the city just smell like urine?” The answer is no, unless you’re a dog or maybe a very small child. These great dogs only add to the quaint narrow streets and statued fountains that make up Sevilla, and apart from some confused looks from owners that have caught me photographing their dog(s), it’s always a pleasure to see them out and enjoying the fresh air.

I have to end this blog with an American dog. Actually the American dog: Blue. If you’re reading this Blue, know that these dogs mean nothing to me and I’ll see you soon, brother.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Catching up...La Giralda and the Grand Cathedral

The most notable monument in Sevilla is most definitely the great cathedral and the adjoining tower, la giralda.

It’s another place that photos really can’t capture, and I’d recommend you google image it to get some great aerial views that will show you how big it is.

Originally, there was a great mosque on the same site, which was then adapted to Christianity in the 8th century, when Christians took over Sevilla. There are still a few elements of the original mosque present such as the patio of the orange trees and the Giralda.

Here's a picture of the patio of orange trees. This is where Muslims would wash before entering the mosque.

In 1401, plans were made to destroy the current structure and build a new gothic cathedral, and the council had the goal that the church be “so big that all who see it will think we are mad”.

Construction began in 1517 with masons from Spain, France, and Germany, and although it would roughly finished by the turn of the 18th century, it was added to up until the early years of the 20th century. That’s a construction period of around 400 years.

And if the size wasn't enough, the extensively decorated interior will change your mind. There are over 50 large stained-glass windows, most of which have been redone numerous times due to the frequent earthquakes in Portugal. Here's a picture of one of the larger ones (although when the sun shines in it's tough to get perspective):

It's worth noting that for many, this would be a pretty great place to be laid to rest (I'd prefer a plot next to my lake at home where I've buried a few cats). Here's a picture of a famous Cardinal who died just before ascension to the Pope:

And I guess it's also worth noting that Cristobal Colon also rests inside this cathedral. For all you non-spanish speakers out there, that's Christopher Columbus! These remains have been heavily disputed in the past because both San Salvador and Madrid both claim to have Columbus' remains. Interestingly enough, DNA testing has proved that all three do in fact have Chris' remains (How they got the initial DNA to perform the test is a question beyond my grasp of the spanish language). This fact of course questions either the integrity of the DNA test, or the integrity of Columbus' family...or both. But anyway, here's his coffin:

The four pall bearers represent the kings of the four realms of Spain during Columbus' voyage, a couple of which carry staffs with crosses on the top and a Muslim image on the bottom, representing the triumph of Christianity that Columbus' voyage apparently brought. Say what you want about the man's beliefs, navigational prowess, and all the diseases his men brought to the New World, but don't think you wouldn't have done the same thing if you had his financial means and courage. If you wouldn't have made the trip, it certainly wouldn't have been out of a knowledge of the difference between European and Western hemisphere bacteria.

The size of this church is absolutely impossible to grasp, but here's a couple ceiling shots to give it a try...

In the middle photograph above, the door below is the main entrance to the cathedral, but is only opened for the King of Spain, or the Pope.

The organ in this place only sounds on special occasions, but from this picture you can tell it's big.

...and that's only half of it. There's an identical organ on the other side of the choir chamber. Each has over 30,000 individual tubes, and although it's automated now, required 3 men to play in the 16th-19th centuries.

In addition to everything else, the construction of this cathedral took place in the golden age of Europe and of Spain, and every one of Spain's greatest artists played some part in the art that adorns many walls of this cathedral. I feel so terrible that I can't remember their names, but that's the way it goes, and in fairness, wiki didn't know, either.

This is the most famous painting in the cathedral, depicting St. Anthony. It's difficult to see, but if you look closely around the figure of the kneeling St. Anthony, you can make out a line that goes all the way along. This is because in the early 20th century, robbers broke into the church, cut out the man from the painting, and sold it on the black market. The figure made his way back onto the grid and was bought by an American. But when he was contacted by the church who had located its whereabouts, he immediately gave it back (go America), and luckily, St. Anthony made his way back home. In such a strange series of events it's a wonder that he wasn't lost for good! In that case it's a good thing St. Anthony happens to be the saint of lost items. Seriously.

With a tour of the grounds and inside complete, we headed up the tower, La Giralda, which is by far the most notable site in all of Sevilla. It is the first thing you notice no matter what road or path you take into the city.

Walking up the Giralda, I was extremely surprised to find that there are no stairs.

This is so that horses could make their way up to the top. Why? That's a question that escapes me, unless it was just the laziness of their riders. (In their fairness, the tower is around 30 stories high).

The tower is still a functional bell-tower, which we experienced first-hand when the clock struct 2pm. Thank my stars it wasn't 11.

Here are some photos I took from the top:

My favorite street in Sevilla, Padre Merez^

The Real Alcazar, or royal fortress, which I discussed in an earlier blog but will be returning to sometime.

Here's La Iglesia Santa Cruz, which I pass everyday on the way to class^

And the Arena de los Toros, pretty self-explanatory but bull-fighting doesn't start for a month or so.

And just another view of the Cathedral and the top of the Patio of Orange Trees.