Leaving Sevilla

I’ve begun counting down the hours until I leave for home; it’s even easier now that the number is less than ten. As a matter of fact, the number is now 6. How am I spending these last hours? Right now, I’m trying my best to eat an entire funghi pizza while TV surfing; but it’s a sad state of affairs when I’m more drawn to commercials than actual programming. My mind wandered, and I decided to blog to pin it down.

The Torre de Oro framed by summer leavesAs Derek could tell you, I am hard-pressed to finish a thought if I’m not telling it to someone. Thinking without dictating is like trying to put together a puzzle around a baby (my sister will understand this metaphor). As a child, the best way for me to sort through my feelings was to argue with the mirror. Sometimes I will spend hours thinking around an issue, the harder I clutch at it the more it drifts away, yet the solution becomes clear within a few sentences of trying to explain it to someone else.

The last of my friends to leave the city, I spent the evening marking off a to-do list that included cake, hazelnut gelato, and thin-crust pizza. These are my favorite kinds of to-do lists, and yet I procrastinated: I window-shopped for colorful strappy sandals and last-minute souvenirs, bought a bright blue summer purse, and discovered a fresh-made pasta store. I felt some kind of pang when I saw the pasta store; I’d been looking for fresh pasta all year. But I couldn’t try any now; I’ll have to wait until next year. I shoved the pang aside.

People picnic by the river, overlooking the bridge and its memorable circle architectureLater on, while admiring the street glowing orange against a deepening cerulean sky, I revisited that pang. What was it all about? I know where to buy fresh pasta in Ann Arbor… but I won’t be returning to that familiar semi-squalor in run-down rental housing in a college town. I’ll return to a suburb across the state without sidewalks, where everyone is is quiet by 9pm and lights are out by 11pm — it will actually be scary to walk in the streets at night; people are suspicious of you on the street even if you’re just asking for directions; and you’re not allowed to smile at strangers’ babies. If I take a nap between 2pm and 5pm and eat dinner at 10pm, people will think I’m lazy. All the dogs are on leashes.

A street in the city center of SevilleDespite the economy, Spanish life makes so much sense to me now. There’s balance, there’s beauty, there’s culture, there’s trust. As my Spanish improves, I can see myself living here for a long, long time.

It’s easy to remember the good things about home, too; I’ve had plenty of practice mooning over the things I miss about the United States these past few months. I even have a rudimentary to-do list beyond hanging out with family and friends:

  • Finish the quilt I’m making for Derek’s mom
  • Make the two dresses I bought supplies for a year ago
  • Take the GRE
  • Try a few recipes from Herbivoracious
  • Help clean the house and get rid of some of my junk that’s in storage
  • Go fruit picking, hiking, visit the beach, swim in the pool in the back yard, run around barefoot with my niece, cuddle my kitty cat, drink a pint of craft beer, eat some tasty international food, enjoy local ice cream, get someone to take a picture of me in which I do not look like a pirate

A row of bright red Sevici bikes lined up before the Jardines de MurilloNevertheless, I felt a surge of bitterness as I carried my food purchases home. Despite my homesickness, Sevilla is starting to feel familiar. I’m going to come back for another year, and then how will I feel? We work so few hours we can barely call ourselves employed; with the remaining time, I’m forming relationships with the people and things of this city, even if it’s just change over time. The neighbors across the street are almost done remodeling. Someone broke the foot pedal of the trash dumpster on Calle Urquiza. The trees across the street from the park have bright yellow conical offshoots. The geckos are back, scurrying out of the sun to hide beneath the jasmine vines that now reach halfway into the sidewalk. I recognize this city. I have memories here. I’m going to make more. And after next year, when the idea that this is “home” no longer feels novel but is a simple fact of life, I’m going to leave. And I can never come back; not like this. And that stinks.

Fragrant purple blossoms litter the ground in Prado de San SebastianSo, what exactly do I like about Sevilla?

I like the color of the streets, here. I like the reliable distribution of stores; shoes and bazaars are everywhere, and you can count on a baby clothes store at least once per block. I like the fresh fruit stands that hand you your fruit order wrapped in thick paper cones. I like the fresh, cool mornings and slightly muggy but comfortable evenings. I like hiding from the sun in mid-day, when I’m always sleepy anyway, eating an enormous meal at lunch-time and sleeping it off along with everyone else. I like Spanish.

Wares crowd the streets during the Thurdsay market on Calle FeriaI like my bedroom on the 5th floor and how I can lean over the street and people watch. I like how I’ve arranged my bedroom and the amount of light that comes in through the window. I like crumbling plaster in the city center, the park benches throughout the city that are actually used to socialize and relax outside, the way that I can usually still hear children running around outside and playing when I go to bed at 1am.

I like the dogs who trot happily off their leashes, despite the busy streets and the foot traffic. I like that the train station is a block away, as well as the bus to the airport. A bus to the bus station is only 2 blocks away. At a moment’s notice, I can go to Paris, Rome, Ronda, Córdoba, Cádiz, Madrid. I never have to drive.

Blue, yellow, and green tiles create a repeating pattern

Looking through all my pictures from this past year, I am amazed at the things I have seen and done, and how it already feels so far away. Amsterdam? A lifetime ago! Even London is an old memory. What will I be doing in 5 years that will make Seville feel like a former life? I can’t even begin to imagine.

Luckily I don’t have to yet, because I’m coming back next year.

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What I Think About Graffiti

This is some of the graffiti on my morning commute when I walk past Santa Justa station on my way to the bus stop. Isn’t it spectacular?

Bulbous bodies in pink and white.

This is the first graffiti; on the other side is a giant pixelated snake that runs the entire length of the wall, crawling up the stairs.

The body language is dejected and depressed, but I like the shading, the proportions, and the different ways the fingers are executed. I like the depth created by the pretty trees in the background. I think the light gray blob on the far right looks like a fetus. Whether or not that impression is accurate probably says something about my medical expertise. Whether or not you know it’s accurate says something about yours! KA-BOOM!

A girl with a third eye sits next to a green skeleton with black wings, who sits next to a giant red apple.

She looks familiar. Where have I seen a girl with a 3rd eye before...?

Check out the lesser graffiti in the back. HOW EMBARRASSING. I guess everyone has to start somewhere. But the stuff on the left totally means something. I just don’t know what. I think it might be spiritual. A third eye. A skull. A worm in an apple? Ah, my mortality!  The most interesting element is the spray can: it has a heart on it, but a skull coming out of it, and the skull is leaking paint or blood or maybe both. Are empty spray cans the dark angels of graffiti death? Isn’t that kind of a given? Guess what? I have literally never thought about this before. But now we have both thought about it together.

A tall white man, a deer-like animal, a round, laying figure.

I can't tell what I like best: those hands, which remind me of Audrey Kawasaki; the deer, which reminds me of Princess Mononoke; the bird, which reminds of John Lennon; or the round figure on the right, which reminds me of a Goron who has just seen something horrible on the internet.

There is this (mildly erotic; consider yourself forewarned) artist, Audrey Kawasaki, who used to draw girls without upper arms, but with lower arms and hands. I imagine the tall, white figure is what those girls look like when they are wearing snuggies.

I enjoy that the deer is wearing lipstick. I love its long, thick neck and I like to imagine it in profile. It would have no distinctive head; just a face slapped on front of the stump, with ears sticking out on either side.

A young blonde with a 3rd eye stands next to a boy with a red rabbit on his lap.

Maybe this is who that girl with the 3rd eye reminds me of. In any case, the style of this piece reminds me Mark Ryden.

Mark Ryden is a painter obsessed with blood, meat, bunnies, and Abraham Lincoln, but his palette is both bright and somber like this. I have no other comments because this graffiti creeps me out.

A giant octopus eats his words.

I have no idea what it says, but the letters are more like what I expect graffiti to be. The Spanish word for octopus is 'pulpo.'

There’s more great graffiti in Sevilla, as I have already shown you, and more popping up all the time. Which reminds me that I still have to watch Exit Through The Gift Shop!

On  my home I took the 22 bus instead of the 27 and got to walk past the park; it’s a bunch of orange trees, olive trees, and flowers. See? Sevilla is a really beautiful place, even if it is a lot dirtier than Madrid!

looking up into an orange tree with bright oranges; worked with christmas lights

Ripening citrus adorned with Christmas lights.

bunch of pigeons and doves on the ground by a row of olive trees

Peace in our time: a bunch of white birds pecking at fallen olives.

lane of flower trees separated by a pool of water

La Buhaira

Where I Live

Did I ever show you where I live? Take a look!

Here is the bathroom. I try to spend as little time in here as possible. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Orange and white tiles reminiscent of the kitchen.

The bathroom.

I spend almost no time in this room, even though it has the TV. I prefer the cozy kitchen or my bedroom. I’ll sit in here on Tuesday nights, though, to watch The Big Bang Theory with Omar.

Two couches at right angles; a small coffee table in between. Light comes in through the balcony window.

The living room. How do you like our coverlets?

The kitchen is my favorite room. I like to sit at the little table in front of the refrigerator and chat with my friends while I cook a big lunch and eat. This window is quieter than the one in my room because it faces the plaza instead of the street. The tiles are so bright and cheerful!

My kitchen, all orange and white and tiled with a light wooden floor.

This is my favorite room! This is the kitchen. The Special K is not mine. The spaghetti is, though.

Segovia: Inside the Castle

Inside the castle, each room felt more impressive than the last. It was a perfect tour. I would get to a room, think, “this must be the peak,” and then say the exact same thing about the next room.

Our tour began at the very bottom of the castle, working our way up to the very top, on the azotea (terrace rooftop) of the tallest tower of the alcázar (palace), the Torre de Juan II.

The cellar was empty and rough. A deep, dark pit was blocked off by a wrought iron grate, but there were sparkling coins glittering inside. I turned away from the pit to see Bill standing with his face in the corner.

Bill bows his head in the corner of the cellar

Bill! Go to your dungeon!

Upstairs, the first two rooms of the tour were lined with suits of armor. Nearly all of them were shorter than I am, and some of them were very tiny — making them 1/3 the size of my future students. Despite their dainty appearance, I’m very nearly positive that each and every one would outlast me in a fistfight.

I am about to shake hands with my little friend, a tiny suit of armor.

Why hello there, Mr. Tiny Suit!

A knight with a  lance rides atop an armored horse.

None shall pass!

The throne room had a moorish-inspired ceiling with the mirrors and intricate patterns, but it was more angular than the throne room in the Real Alcázar in Sevilla. It had two large portraits, one each of Ferdinand and Isabella.

The royal bed was surprisingly small, perhaps 1/3 the size of a current king size bed. Reasons not to travel back in time: people will chase you with pitchforks thinking you’re a giant. Everything was covered in smooth red velvet. I wonder if kings and queens kicked the covers off their beds on hot summer nights to find them tangled and crumpled on the floor in the morning. Now their blankets are crushed velvet.

Midway up the palace was a terrace with pretty views all around.

View from the terrace over some turrets that have been carved up by tourists.

This post brought to you by Friday, Calvin Klein, Amy, and the letter A.

Right in the middle of the terrace was a well. There was still water in the bottom, but no pulley to bring it up anymore. Bill took a video of himself dropping a coin inside, and you can see it splash at the bottom.

Bill stands at a well beneath the Torre.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bucket

From here, we passed through more rooms filled with armor, flags, and cannons until we reached the chapel. Throughout, the artwork was very gruesome, reminding me of Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. And Quentin Tarantino.

A stained glass image of a horse's hoof pressing a king's head into the pavement.

That's gotta hurt.

Gory religious imagery

Yikes.

Finally we got to the bottom of the Torre de Juan II, where we warned not to even try if we weren’t in good shape.

ATENCIÓN

They forgot to mention that each step was a foot high.

The staircase was steep, cramped, and dimly lit — but also worth it. At the top, there seemed to be no such thing as a best place to look out at the scenery. Every spot was gorgeous, especially since it was the final golden hour before sunset.

We see the backs of the turrets on the top of the Torre.

It never occurred to me before that the turrets wouldn't be full circles.

Of course my photography can’t even begin to capture the depth and color and vastness of the scene, but I will try to show you:

A view overlooking changing trees, mountains, and sunlit Segovia in the distance.

Beautiful.

Here is the other side:

A couple looks out over the hazy sunset between two of the turrets on the top of the Torre.

Romantic.

And here’s the side overlooking the cathedral:

A view of the cathedral from the top of the Torre.

Stunning.

Before the sunset could fully kick in, we headed back to the bus stop to catch the train back to Madrid. One last view of the castle:

A view of the castle in Segovia from a distance.

Nice place.

And we arrived at the station:

The train station in segovia in the beginning of sunset.

There are worse places to have to wait for a train.

We got there sooner than expected, so Bill pulled out his harmonica.

Bill plays the harmonica in the sunset at the train station.

There are worse things to hear when waiting for a train.

I took pictures of the sunset, which was really this bright and deep.

Deep blues, purples, and bright pinks make up this sunset over Segovia.

There are worse sunsets when waiting for a train.

And, of course, before you leave, here are some Segovian cats:

A cat cleans himself in his usual place, you know, at the base of a gigantic cathedral.

Just another day for Señor Fuzzles

A tightly packed row of painted wooden cats.

Meow meow meow!

Madrid: With Bill

I bolted upright. How long has Bill been waiting for me? I panicked, leapt out of bed, jiggled on my jeans, and ran downstairs. Something was wrong. The lobby didn’t look like it did yesterday at 8:30am, with the television playing a strange mix of spanish ballads, 10-year-old rock songs, and today’s Top 40. And why was the sun so dark?

I went back to bed and slept for another 4 hours.

The next time, I opened my eyes amidst a haze of shuffling bodies. Downstairs, Bill had already eaten breakfast. He couldn’t check in for a few hours, so we went to el Parque del Buen Retiro.

First, we found the Crystal Palace.

The front face of the Crystal Palace in Madrid, with columns reaching up to a bright blue sky.

An austere building...

Bill slides down a giant slide inside the Crystal Palace.

... with a giant slide inside!

Perhaps the giant slide was an integral part of the overall art exhibition including the voices of a man and a woman singing lines from different political mantras and videos of hundreds of people interpreting major historical events by standing in lines and grids and stomping their feet — or maybe it was just a way to get down from a vista.

Across from the Crystal Palace is a man-made pond filled with ducks and geese and swans and other avian creatures. The next day, we would come back to this spot with an old baguette. See the difference?

A view of an urn-shaped sculpture with a lake and trees in the background.

Before the baguette, the pond is serene.

A picture of an urn-shaped sculpture with a lake and trees in the background, covered in birds.

After the baguette, the pond teems with life. Even the sky is bluer!

Notice the bird in the lower-right corner, above what may be my finger over the lens.

We continued to explore more of the park, stopping sometimes to rest and sometimes to play. We weren’t allowed to leave until I saw a cat.

The lake of Buen Retiro, lined with colorful trees and covered in rowboats.

We watch the men huff and puff to push the ladies all around the lake.

A choppy image of me enjoying the swingset.

A playground isn't a playground if no one is playing.

Finally, I saw a cat. We ate in a delicious cafetería called Neila, which has the best tortilla that I have ever had, and then returned to the hostel where it was time for Bill to check in.

That evening, we explored the terrazas, which are the outdoor seating areas of the cafés in the plazas. As soon as we sat down, a man came by to play some spanish guitar for tips. At the next terraza, entire bands came by to play jazz, complete with bass, accordions, clarinets, and saxophones.

We watch a man play spanish guitar on the other side of the terraza.

There are terrazas like this in every plaza in the area.

After the terrazas, we went for one last stop to watch the end of the Valencia vs. Barcelona game in an Irish pub.

Painted tiles depict Oscar Wilde.

This is why we chose this bar.

It was a beautiful and full day. I had a lovely time, and felt that Madrid was definitely my favorite place in the whole world.

The next day we would adventure to the lovely Segovia.

Arriving: Madrid

Well, I made it to Spain… but it’s certainly not because packing was easy!

A suitcase stacked so high with folded clothes that it can't even begin to close.

This wasn't going anywhere.

My sister loaned me a bigger suitcase, I got everything together, spent a couple wonderful days in Chicago (I will miss you, Bon Bon and dense, delicious craft beer!), and headed to DC.

A small baguette overflowing to twice its size with cilantro, carrot, lemongrass tofu, and jalapeño peppers.

My favorite sandwich: the vegetarian banh mi.

On the flight over the Atlantic, I watched Water for Elephants, 30 Rock, and Mildred Pierce until I remembered an hour before landing that I should get some sleep. I laid down across four seats and rested my head on four pillows, then the lights came on and the flight attendants came by with breakfast. I decided to drink as much hot black tea as I could instead.

I arrived at my hostel at 9:30 am and spent the next hour sitting in a half-asleep stupor on the first floor landing of the hostel (that’s the 2nd floor to you American folk) playing Sudoku and occasionally staring at the wall. Check-in wasn’t until 1:30 pm.

The check-in guy came by regularly on his way to the Staff-Only Room and would speak to me rapidly in Spanish. He would ask such questions as, “Do you want the light on?” and “Where are you from?” I would shrug my shoulders. He would repeat slowly in English. I would reply with monosyllables, grunts, and my hand (Michigan). In the face of such hostile questions, I finally decided to go for a walk.

I have no clue what I did. Ah, yes! I ate a bocadillo de tortilla (a potato-and-egg sandwich on a baguette), read Crepúsculo (yes, Twilight), and eavesdropped on the locals. I noted that the next 5 people who came in to the bocadillería ordered fried calamari with salad.

I came back to the hostel and the check-in guy checked me in early (“You just look tired.”). I went upstairs to take a nap.

A lovely American girl from Madison came into the room shortly after, also preparing for a nap. We made a date: after our naps, we would go out and explore the city together.

We went to the Prado Museum and got Thai food for dinner (they use less sauce than in the States, which was too bad). I kept flinging broccoli off my plate. Twice the broccoli landed halfway across the room. We laughed and laughed. Later, I considered buying a Messi shirt from a street stall, but decided to ask Bill about it after he arrived the next day. I started to have a crush on Madrid.

It’s just so clean, bright, and beautiful. This picture perfectly sums up how I felt about Spain at this point. The buildings and sky are dazzling. The people are but a well-dressed, shadowy blur:

The evening sun lights up the top of a pretty cathedral in Madrid.

You can never have too many crosses.

That night, curling up on my hostel cot in the same room I had from last December, Madrid felt familiar, like coming home. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Bill just taking off over the ocean, but I think I fell asleep.