It’s 3:24 a.m. in Madrid. My cab comes in an hour. I finished packing up five months of my life around midnight. And between then and now, I’ve just been waiting to leave. Not sleeping. Just waiting.

Of course I wiped out my dresser drawers in that time, and wrote goodbye notes to my host family. But I still can’t get over the illusion of this moment.

At least when we leave Marquette after a semester, we know we’ll come back.

I have no idea when I’ll come back to Madrid.

Five months here has left such a deep impression that I can’t just leave forever, so thoughts of return trip have already begun brewing. Just lacking the details at this point. And the sleep to make them make sense.

Going on two hours right now. The five of us Americans still left in Madrid went out last night to favorites Laser Karaoke (see shameless Americans shouting Kanye’s “Gold Digger”), Me Da Igual (see Americans realizing they’ve got mere hours left in Europe, and dancing emotionally to Spanish love ballads like “Colgando en tus manos”), and La Chocolatería San Ginés (see Americans toasting mugs of chocolate to a semester well spent, then chowing down on the best churros con chocolate in town).

So, when I got back home in the morning, I slept for a few hours until my host sister woke me up to say goodbye. She’s leaving for the United States (Minnesota, complete coincidence) to do summer English camps. We’ve got a Mall of America date planned, so I’ll see her soon enough. But thus began the despedidas.

Saying goodbye to the housekeeper, Mayra was even worse. The 24-year-old Ecuadorian who cooks most of our food and scrubs the house till it gleams has become one of my best friends here. But what will come of her when she carries out her plans to move back to Ecuador?

Spent all day trying to outsmart British Airways’ 50-pound-suitcase rule, and failing. The wine and olive oil I’m bringing back tip the scales. Oh well.

But now before my cab comes, I probably should shower and make myself my last café con leche in Madrid.


At 3:34 p.m. yesterday I sent in my last paper of the term. Funny how simply clicking “send” on Gmail brought such relief. 

Four papers, four exams, and 200 paintings in the Prado later, I’m ready to enjoy my last week in Spain without academics.

However, as I walked for the last time from the smoky halls of Facultad B, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of nostalgia for the building in which we’ve spent so many hours this semester.

After getting off the Metro at Ciudad Universitaria (University City), a 15-minute walk will get you to La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras B. Facultades are like little colleges. Facultad B is home to all the history, art, philosophy, and music students of la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. And it’s home to all of us foreign students.

Oh, building 

 Facultad de Filosofía y Letras B


The outside of the building is pretty enough.

The inside of the building is a little more… well, gray and dismal. I think this photo actually makes it look better than it is. There are very few windows in the main areas, just harsh florescent lighting. The place was an icebox in January and February; we could literally see our breath during class. But even when it’s 85 outside, the Facultad still has a cold feeling. There’s no decor anywhere, no potted plants, no couches, no carpet. Think of Marquette’s Alumni Memorial Union, then strip everything pretty from it. The place is very bare bones, but it’s fully functional. I guess they decided not to “waste money” on shiny things like that Father Brooks mosaic on the second floor of the AMU. Such is public education.

Normally there’s students running all over the place. But these photos were all taken during finals week, when students hide in the library. That might be why there’s no smoky haze in the air (although you’re not supposed to, students frequently smoke inside the building).

The main staircase leads up to the computer lab, which is probably the most popular place for all of us Internet-addict foreign students to pass time between classes.

A typical classroom.

yeah, bolognia
Plan Bolonia protest posters. 

Notice all the posters. They’re protesting Plan Bolonia, or the Bologna Process, a plan to streamline education at the university level throughout all of Europe. Most Spanish students are against it (for many reasons, but mainly because the price of education will rise), and those in Facultad B are particularly vocal.

The cafeteria, normally this is buzzing with students. 

And then there’s the cafeteria. It’s a zoo between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m., with students rushing to the bar to take a cafe con leche quickly before class. All the seats are occupied during lunch time; it’s perfectly acceptable to plop down at any table, even if you don’t know anyone already sitting there. The food isn’t bad, either. There’s tons of bocadillo (sandwich) selections, and about 3 euros will buy you a three- to four-course meal. Daily menu choices range everywhere from a salad to paella.  

To order: Insert coins, press what you want, collect ticket, bring ticket to bar. Easy enough, right?
In case a bocadillo isn’t enough, order some alcohol with lunch. Here are just the beer options.

Many students have a cerveza or a tinto de verano with lunch. In fact, there’s always empty beer bottles scattered all over the building, on the steps outside, in the parking lot, and in the surrounding woods. What a cultural difference alcohol is. So I will say that many of us ordered an Amstel after all our finals were over on Friday, and leisurely drank it in the cafeteria. And then we tried to imagine ordering a beer from Marquette Place. Ha.

But alas, even though Marquette won’t serve me an Amstel, the overall chill of the place makes me miss my home university.

Adios, Complutense. I learned a lot from your professors, made some great Spanish friends in your classes, and drank your Amstel. But my last seven days in Spain will not be spent anywhere near your campus.

I always end up spending more time than I should in the women’s bathroom in Facultad B. I try to make it quick between my classes, but each time I enter a stall there’s always something new and entertaining written on the walls. There’s boy talk, political messages, inspiring quotations, and even little notes politely asking people to wash their hands after using the toilet … because said hand washing is a highly underused hygienic practice in our building.

But yesterday I went into the stall that houses my favorite proverb:


It means “veganism is justice.” And yes, I did take a photo of it. Hours later, I went to a bullfight.

Although I do enjoy a hamburger once in a while, a corrida de toros is something I probably won’t watch again.

We entered the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas just as the corrida (which means “running” not “fight”) began. It was almost filled to its capacity of 25,000. Ticket prices vary depending on where you sit and who’s in the ring. The most expensive, on the first level in the sombra, or shade, are about 125 euros. We got the cheapest tickets for 4,50 euros in the sol, or sun.

La Plaza de Toros
La Plaza de Toros

A nice old man with squinty eyes tried to sell us cushions for our culos.

“You’ll be sitting on stone,” he said. “You’re going to want something for your culo.”

Later we wished we’d invested the 1,50 euros. We had the ultimate nosebleed seats: the highest level with seats on stone ledges so steep you feel like any sudden movements will tip you off balance and send you plummeting into the ring below. And we were in the sol. Sweaty, sticky, smelly … body odor and beer … men in straw hats, women fluttering fans.

The man sitting next to me commented on how hot it was. We bonded over how embarrassingly sweaty were, and became friends. He was kind enough to explain to us what was going on in the corrida below.

Inside the arena. In Spanish, arena means sand.

Inside the arena. Note the sol and the sombra.

Six men make up the cuadrilla, or entourage: two picadores, or lancers, on horseback, three banderilleros or flagmen, and a mozzo de espada, or sword page. Then there are four auxiliary matadores with pink capes, and the main matador with a red cape. The corrida passes in three stages, each announced by a trumpet.

The tercio de varas, or lancing third, the bull is jabbed in the back with a puyazo. It taunts and agitates the bull before it enters the ring. Then the picadores come out on their horses and stab the bull with a lance. This is to weaken the neck muscles and lower the bull’s head, making its charges less dangerous. Right. The horses wear armor so they aren’t disemboweled by the bull’s horns. We could hear the clashing of horn-on-metal even from our seats. Poor horse. Thepicadores also wear armor on their legs. Then the auxiliares taunt the bull with their pink capes.

Bull charging at an auxiliary matador.
Bull charging at an auxiliary matador.

During the tercio de bandarillas, each of the three bandilleros thrust a pair of barbed darts into back part of the bull. They try to get the darts, decorated with colored paper, as close to the wound from the lance. They run at the bull and fly through the air with their bandarillas. They stab the bull with one smooth motion, and then run for their lives to the edge of the ring as the bull charges after them.

The horses.
A picador on horseback stabs the bull, accompanied by the auxiliares with pink capes. The sometimes auxiliares run behind the fence at the top of the photo if the bulls are charging at them. 

The final stage is the trercio de muerte, or the third of death. The main matadorenters the ring in his traje de luces, or suit of lights, and is alone with the bull. This is said to be the most beautiful, and the most perilous stage. The matador jeers the bull by screaming and whipping his red cape, a sword hidden underneath. He dangerously dances with the snorting bull for a few moments, and then stabs it through the shoulder blades, piercing the heart.

The trumpet sounds, the plaza erupts in applause, thematador takes a bow, and the bull is dragged in a triumphant circle around the arena by three horses. After that, they clean up the trail of blood in the sand.

Dragging the bull.

Then it happens five more times.

We didn’t stay for the entirecorrida. It wasn’t necessary to see six bulls tormented, murdered and bloodily dragged around an arena by men with swords.

And most times the death of the bull isn’t quick. A skilled matador should be able to stab the bull directly through the back and into the heart. Yesterday the guy was not that skilled. The bull had to be jabbed many times with smaller knives to kill it once it was down. Watching a 1,300-pound animal traditionally symbolic of strength and valor drop to all fours after such agony is arduous.

It’s something I don’t completely understand, but can appreciate. Kind of. The man next to me kept saying how elegant the matadorwas, how valiant the bull. In their trajes de luces, thematadores really are graceful – and seemingly fearless. As the bull hurtles horns-first at them, all they do is shift their arm, swooping their cape behind their back. The legs remain planted, the head up, the chest out. They scream “Ha” or “Hey” at the bull, challenging it to attack. After dodging a particularly life-threatening charge, the matador arches his back, puffs out his chest and sharply whips his chin up in supremacy.

It’s a refined series of movements, strategically choreographed to shift at the last second to sidestep a charging beast.

Graceful? It can be. But when the three old men behind you are chanting, ¡Vale, vale, vale, mátalo! ”Okay, all right, kill it!” It looses some of its elegance.

That’s one dance I could never do.

But for the cultural experience I’m glad I went. And I learned that the red color of the capes don’t actually attract the bull. Bulls are colorblind. The red is to mask all the blood. Pleasant, right?


  • “El Metro que todos quisieren tener, vive en Madrid.”

Metro Ad

  • Unrefrigerated ham can hang in the pantry for five months (and counting).
  • Bigger is not always better.
  • Judías, beans, though spelled similarly, are not the same thing as Judíos, Jews. 
  • Toilet paper in public restrooms is not always a given.  Neither is ink in our school’s printers.  Nor paper, for that matter.
  • It is not rude to stare, point, or yell at strangers.  It is, however, frowned upon to yawn, stretch or wear flip-flops in public.
  • I can function without sleep for about 48 hours.  But I would prefer not to.
  • A sandwich on whole wheat bread is an unusual and extraordinary request.
  • An Americana can be a) an American girl, b) a blazer, c) a type of bar glass or d) my preferred type of café.
  • Being 10 minutes late is completely acceptable everywhere except the movie theater, where you will be denied entrance.
  • There is no greater joy than 1-euro sandwiches every Wednesday at Cien Montaditos
  • Soup made with chicken broth can be considered vegetarian friendly. 
  • “No smoking” is really just a suggestion.

I am going to miss this place.

I went out last night and came back afónica. That means I lost my voice.

You could probably draw some conclusions if I mentioned that I crawled into bed at 6:30 a.m. after dancing all night at Joy Eslava

But entrance to Joy is free on Thursdays for students, and we don’t have class today because it’s the Día del Trabajador, or Labor Day, in Spain. And because my friends and I can relate to the 17 percent of willing and able Spaniards who are unemployed, we decided to skip the 8-euro drinks and soberly belt/rock out to American classics like Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” all night.

So, the fact that I have quedado afónica is not because I went crazy last night. But as I dodged the elbows of sweaty dancers and tried to keep from getting pushed over onto the sticky floor coated with broken beer bottles, I couldn’t help but think: This is how people get sick.

This is how people get la gripe porcina.

I’m pretty sure my sore throat and muscle aches are just from singing and dancing obnoxiously to Bon Jovi. My stuffy nose is probably just from lack of sleep. But when Spain’s health ministry confirmed Europe’s first case of swine flu on Monday, I was a little concerned. The Spanish media really played it up. Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez appeared all over the television, newspapers had huge front page headlines and article upon article of analysis. Photo spreads of people in surgical masks could be found all inside the papers. It was hard to miss.

Now with constant updates online and on television, we know that Spain has confirmed 13 cases of la gripe porcina, and suspects 59, according to The New York Times. Two cases are in Madrid, according to El País.

On my way to el Parque de Buen Retiro today I saw a few people getting onto the metro wearing those little white masks. Comforting, eh?

Granted, I haven’t seen too many people wearing masks, and most who do have suitcases and are most likely traveling. Most mask-wearing folk are seen in Barcelona and Valencia.

The television news team interviewed a bunch of students yesterday about the dangers of disease-spreading among young people. Universities are frequented by thousands of people per day. People share cigarettes and drinks on- and off-campus. And when you factor in Madrid’s nightlife that never sleeps (read: sweaty guys in crowded dance clubs), us youngins are prime gripe candidates.

Mom sent me an e-mail reminding me to wash my hands with soap and water long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. I then reminded her that A) running the water for that long might be a sin in Europe, and B) the girls at the university, at least those in Facultad B, rarely wash their hands after using the restroom… kind of nasty.

But I’m going to continue more or less like normal. Just more consciously. I guess don’t go shaking anyone’s hand, try not to touch anything on the Metro, and don’t give the traditional Spanish greeting! I might just try to smile more instead of greeting with dos besos (a kiss on each cheek)… So here’s a smile from Madrid – because my voice is gone anyway ☺


I’m getting worried.


I have been told that the culture shock upon returning to America is stronger than the shock upon coming to Europe.  And I understand why.

Tour Eiffel


Just this week I saw the Mona Lisa, ate lunch under the Eiffel Tower, studied Las Meninas in person at the Museo del Prado, and am soon heading to Barcelona to walk among the architectural masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí.  On my walk to school in Madrid I pass a palace and the former hunting grounds of the Hapsburg dynasty.  On my walk to school at Marquette I pass Real Chili.  How will anything at home compare?


Familiar territory is comforting.  I will be glad to be back among people that speak my language—that should prevent 30 euro miscommunications at the dry cleaners.  And of course I miss friends and family. 


But unfamiliar territory is thrilling.  Wandering around foreign cities not knowing what I will stumble upon next is my favorite way to pass the time.  The long, complicated history of Europe intrigues me, and the culture agrees with me (though I am still too Type-A to siesta for 2 hours every day.) 


It was in talking to some Spaniards one night that I discovered a solution. These students were surprised that I had never been to Seattle or San Francisco or Yellowstone National Park.  I haven’t skied in Aspen and I have never taken a Greyhound bus.  There is so much of America that I have yet to experience.  And in Milwaukee, when I’m missing the warm mediterranean climate, I can always walk to the lake to visit my Spanish friend Santiago Calatrava.


"rebajas" or rebates at El Corte Inglés

All over Spain I have noticed advertisements proclaiming “¡Vencemos a la crisis!” or  “A la crisis, buena cara.”  (Mono-linguals please reference The economic crisis has hit Spain just as hard, or maybe harder, than the United States– the rate of unemployment here is about twice as high.  In an attempt to keep the Spaniards spending, restaurants are promoting specially priced menus, annual sales have been extended long past the post-Christmas season, and banks are advertising their new low rates.    People here are cutting back, cutting back from a way of life that was simpler than the life of American abundance to begin with.  For example:

I am constantly driven crazy by the light switches in Europe.  In public bathrooms, in hallways, and in hotels, the lights are controlled by timers.  You push a doorbell-like button, and have 30 seconds or so of illumination.  I have to run down six flights of stairs in my building in this amount of time, or be forced to stumble around in the dark for the next step.  The showers at my gym provide 30 seconds of water.  No one can shower in 30 seconds (can they?)  Despite my frustration, Europe is an example of conservation.  Lights don’t need to be on in hallways and bathrooms while no one is around.  And I suppose I don’t need to take luxurious showers that last longer than my workout.   Think of the natural resources (and MONEY) that must be saved by these annoying timers! 

Example number 2.  Everything is smaller in Spain.  From cars to kitchens to the people themselves, “less” is more abundant.  The SUV that so epitomizes American life is a rare sight in this country. Mopeds, walking, and the Metro are the more preferred forms of transportation.

Most madrileños live in apartments, where space is valuable.  Kitchens and kitchen appliances seem miniscule by American standards.  And they also seem older.  Those 70s style avocado or mustard-colored appliances that are so passé back home still lurk around Europe.  Why?  Because they still work.  Refrigerators are smaller, and some of my classmates live in apartments without freezers.  It is more common to go to the local store daily for fresh food rather than to go to a supermarket and load two weeks of groceries into the back of that SUV.  And watch it spoil before it is used.

While I miss having a dryer as part of my laundry routine, the fresh air and clothesline method works perfectly fine.  Everyone has free access to fresh air.   Except maybe L.A. 

Spain is not immune to consumerist culture.  And I am not suggesting that everyone immediately dispose of their dishwashers.  But I do believe that the economic downturn has provided us with an opportunity, a chance to find a simpler way of life, both to “conquer the crisis” (that is the first ad’s translation, if you haven’t already checked) and to find that bigger isn’t always better, and newer isn’t always necessary.  

And now, if you’ll excuse me,
 I’m going to watch my 13 inch television that only gets five stations.