• “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’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 freetranslation.com). 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.

Exhibit Brochure

Last Wednesday I went to an exhibit at El Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Madrid called “La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de Madrid en La Segunda República.”  The “facultad” is the building at the Universidad de Complutense where the Marquette en Madrid program is based, and “La Segunda República” was the Spanish government formed in the 1930s before the Spanish Civil War.  It was a liberal government for its time, one that allowed women to vote, attend college and hold their own jobs.  

The University’s story actually started before the Second Republic.  King Alfonso XII decided that Spain needed a modern University with a large campus, similar to those in the United States.  When Alfonso abdicated the throne, the Republic continued the University’s construction.  The architects looked to Berkeley and Harvard’s campuses, and also to Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs,  for inspiration.  The campus was incredibly modern for its time, and so was the educational system.  International students were attracted to the University, and a study abroad program was created.  A group of women from Smith college were the first American students at la Universidad de Complutense.  Complutense students could study abroad as well.  At the exhibit we met a woman who attended the university during the 1930s, and had gone on an “Ancient Civilizations” class cruise through the Mediterranean!  

The exhibit ended on a somber note.  The campus became a battleground during the Spanish Civil War.  The Filosofía y Letras building was used as a fort by the International Brigades that volunteered to help the Republicans (those who supported the Second Republic) as they fought off the Nationalists (Francisco Franco’s supporters).   The building was destroyed, along with hundreds of books that were used to barricade the windows.  We know how the story ends:  Franco won the war and instated a dictatorship that would last until the 1970s.  Though the Facultad was rebuilt, many of the aspects that made the university so modern and unique disappeared along with the Second Republic.  

I was surprised to find that the building that I have been studying in for over a month played such a major role in Spanish history.  Today the walls are covered in graffiti and students buy Heineken in the cafeteria between classes, but I can imagine it before the war, with brand new desks and stained glass windows, and I feel as if I’m carrying on a tradition that started long before I was born.  

I am back in Madrid after spending my long weekend in Toledo and Seville.  I traveled to Toledo by high speed train in 25 minutes, but the bus ride to Seville was 6 and a half hours.  The trip was well worth it, though.  Seville is exactly what comes to mind when I think of Spain.  Orange trees line the streets, buildings are painted in bright colors, people dance flamenco in the streets, and it was WARM.  

I’m sorry to everyone back in Wisconsin, this will make you incredibly jealous, but it was 72 degrees in Seville.  

The city is also very bike-friendly– we rented bikes and rode along the Guadalquivir River and through el Parque María Luisa and la Plaza de España.  Later on we also toured the Cathedral (the 3rd largest in the world and the supposed resting place of Christopher Columbus) and the Alcázar, a palace that King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía still use when they travel to Seville.  The accommodations there are likely better than those of our hostel, which was lacking one window pane and a decent shower.  Its redeeming feature was the rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the Cathedral tower, la Giralda.  And one bed cost only 11 euro per night!  Plenty of money left over for helado and sangria…cuando en Sevilla!

 

el Museo del Jamón

el Museo del Jamón

I have been in Madrid for almost a week now, and I find it necessary to simplify my thoughts by writing about one topic at a time. The category that seems to be most difficult for us Americans to wrap our heads around is la comida, or Spanish food. The first difference is meal times. The Spanish eat lunch around 2:30 p.m. and dinner close to 9:00, which is quite a change from the States, where any nutritionist will tell you to eat five small meals a day, and not to eat right before you go to sleep.

 

Secondly, the Spaniards have no qualms about hanging full pigs from the ceiling as a method of storage, and many restaurants display full fish and tentacles in their windows as to entice people walking by. Ham is unavoidable in Spain. I learned that its status as a national symbol dates back to the Inquisition, when the Muslims and Jews had to prove their conversion to Christianity (both religions prohibit the eating of pork.) I wonder if there were any vegetarians during the fifteenth century.

 

The Spanish use olive oil more often than butter, and desert is either a very small portion of flan or helado (ice cream) or fruit. They also seem to eat a lot of white bread, rice and potatoes, but I suppose this is canceled out by the quantity of walking madrileños do, because I have seen muchos hombres that wear tighter jeans than I do. Maybe the US should take note!