Yesterday I realized I had puntas abiertas up to my orejas. That means I had split ends up to my ears. Yuck. Time for a haircut.

I got my last trim in January before I left for Madrid. I knew that wouldn’t last me until the end, but figured I’d hold out as long as possible and spend haircut money on things like trips to Italy. Or sangria…

But almost four months without a cut is synonymous with disaster in terms of my curly mess of hair. I looked around online for a peluquería, or hair salon and found what I thought to be the best deal: a 24 euro cut at Luis&Tachi.

Yesterday afternoon I strolled into an empty Luis&Tachi on the Calle Alcalá. It’s a chain, only mildly swanky, but swanky enough for the guy who took my coat to give me a skeptical look when I took the tie out of my unwashed, untamed hair.

Then my stylist, María, sat me down in the chair for a champú (shampoo). She asked me if I wanted a hydrating champú. Of course! I won’t lie and say I’ve taken wonderful care of my hair while I’ve been here. And did I want conditioner? Yes. How ‘bout detangling serum? Surely.

Then came the cut. Do you want me to dry it? Um, why wouldn’t I want you to dry it? And for the style, you want me to do it straight? Why not. I’m going to put some anti-frizz products in there, too, OK? Yeah, do whatever you want, María, you’re a professional and I am incapable of keeping my hair under control.

An hour later I had a brilliantly chic, straight, face-framing look. (I relish in these after-style moments because I know I could never recreate them myself.) Satisfied? Yes, muchísimas gracias!

And then I got the bill.

The cut was 24 euros. But that hydrating champú was another few euros. And the conditioner, another few. And a blow dry? That costs extra, too. My ticket had a bunch of red checks next to the services I’d received and products she’d used. It tallied to 50,10 euros. (Let’s try not to convert that to dollars, please).

Granted, María did ask before she did anything to my ravaged hair. And my hair is kind of like Ground Zero even on good days. But I was not expecting to rack up that much of a tab.

Then María told me my hair was really dry and that I need to take better care of it. Ain’t that the truth. But then she tried to sell me that special champú and serum for 54 euros, and I politely declined.

I really miss my $35 wash, cut and style at my regular Highland Park salon with my favorite makeup-wearing male stylist. Sigh.

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On normal Saturday afternoons old madrileñas stroll arm in arm down the street clad in their finest fur coats. It’s up to you to weave through them to get where you need to go. But on Sabado Santo they push you out of the way.

Never have I seen such sweet-looking old women turn so fierce. I got many an elbow to the ribs as those women crossed themselves in front of the statue of “Jesusito”. (Spaniards add “ito” or “ita” to the end of words as a term of endearment, kind of like we’d change “Jim” to “Jimmy”.) But I guess that’s the spirit of Holy Week.

It didn’t rain yesterday, so the Holy Saturday processions continued as normal. And those old women pushed their way up as close as they could. Good thing that at 5’7” I tower 4 inches over the average Spanish woman.

Although I had to stand my ground to keep me spot, the processions were certainly something.

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The procession began at the Real Iglesia de San Ginés in Sol. After leaving the church, only the back of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad with her veil that dates back to the 18th century is visible.

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I ran through the winding streets of Sol to find the beginning of the procession.

The story of the processions begins in 1521 when Spanish noble Marqués de Tarifa returned to Spain from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He instigated the celebration of Vía Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, with a small procession. Over the years, altars and statues grew in number and magnificence, and that evolved into the floats and processions we have today.

The procession begins with the guiding cross, the Cruz de Guía. Women wear La Mantilla, or a black lace mantel on the back of the head. They carry bibles or rosaries.

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Nazarenos, or Nazarenes, clad in habits with pointy capirotes, or hoods, hold candles. In this case the candels were battery-powered. Diputados de tramo, also wearing the habit and capirote, keep the procession in line and in step. This Nazareno carries a crown of thorns.

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Acólitos, or acolytes, burn incense. Then comes a large brass band with musicians of all ages. This little drummer was especially cute.

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Other Nazarenos follow with drums.

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The beat is so powerful it sounds like roaring thunder echoing off city buildings.

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Then come the elaborate pasos, or floats, of Jesus and Mary. They’re carved mostly of wood and garnished with gold, and precious gems.

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One carries three nails, symbolic of the Crucified Christ.

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The Nazarenos sway to the beat of the drums as they carry the paso of Jesus on their shoulders.

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Flowers also decorate the pasos.

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Jesus is followed by Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. Tears can be seen on her face.

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It’s one of the most ornate statues I’ve ever seen.

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The procession passes by Madrid’s Palacio Real, the Royal Palace.

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The red capirotes peak out over the mass of people watching the procession. (Yes, the hoods bear a striking resemblance to the hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, but the Spaniards had them first.) The procession ends at the Cathedral of the Almudena next to the Palacio Real. Although the largest and most elaborate processions are in Sevilla and Málaga, Madrid’s didn’t fall short of spectacular. If you’re in the mood for an astounding cultural experience and can put up with feisty old ladies, check out the Semana Santa processions next year!

What have I gotten myself into?

We’ve got a five-day break starting tomorrow, and while most people will be sunning themselves on the beaches of Lisbon or pleasantly strolling the streets of London, I will be hiking 110 kilometers. Carrying the backpack. And a sleeping bag. And wearing a poncho. And not wearing makeup. HOT.

It’s called the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. It’s a whole network of pilgrimage routes from all over Europe to Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern Spain. This is the site of the tomb of apostle St. James. People have been traveling the Camino on foot or by horse (and now by bike) for more than 1000 years. Pilgrims walk all day through mountains and villages, and stay in homes, historic churches or hostels along the way.

We registered our pilgrimage at the national office in Madrid to receive our Credencial de Peregrino, or Pilgrim's Passport. We'll get it stamped at each town to track our progress and receive our pilgrims certificate when we reach Santiago de Compostela on Sunday. Peregrinos wear the shell with the cross around the neck to identify one another as pilgrims.

We registered our pilgrimage at the national office in Madrid to receive our Credencial de Peregrino, or Pilgrim's Passport. We'll get it stamped at each town to track our progress and receive our pilgrims certificate when we reach Santiago de Compostela on Sunday. Peregrinos wear the shell with the cross around the neck to identify one another as pilgrims.

In times of old, pilgrims walked to clear their consciences or as penance for their sins. Some were even sentenced to the Camino after committing a crime.

But Brooke, Theresa and I are not trying to punish ourselves by tackling such terrain (at least I hope not). Over the years the Camino has helped pilgrims a deep connection with God, the earth, and each other.

We’ll be three of almost 50,000 that walk one of the seven routes of the Camino de Santiago.

Our route, El Camino Inglés, is 110 kilometers (about 70 miles). That means we’ll be walking between 20 to 30 kilometers (12 to 18 miles) each day.

We’re catching a flight to Santiago de Compostela tomorrow morning, and then taking a bus northwest to Ferrol, where our pilgrimage begins. Then we’ll walk.

Gold clamshells on blue backgrounds painted on trees and buildings will guide us. The shell is the symbol of the Camino. It is said that while on his travels to preach in Spain, St. James saved a knight from drowning in the sea. The knight surfaced, alive, covered in shells.

Great story. I just hope these shells are clear enough to let me know where I’m going. (This is the girl who tried to train for her 110 km walk by running through Madrid, only to find herself lost every time).

Brooke and Theresa are better with directions. We’ll get to Santiago de Compostela by Sunday. As for right now, I’m going to sleep. We’ve got a long day of travel ahead of us. And I have to mentally prepare myself to cover my feet in Vaseline each morning and drain my blisters with a sewing needle each night.

But I am wonderfully excited to be one with the earth, and with God. And feel woman. And hear the stories of the hundreds of people walking the Camino right now.

Here's my Dora Backpack! In it you'll find a sleeping bag, a towel, two changes of clothes and some other essentials. You learn to pack light when you know you've got to carry it!

Here's my Dora Backpack! In it you'll find a sleeping bag, a towel, two changes of clothes and some other essentials. You learn to pack light when you know you've got to carry it!

Barriers are obstacles that often emphasize differences. Language barriers do the same, but in a cultural context. The language barriers I’ve experienced in the past five days have just emphasized my awkwardness.

The first, I’ll say, was not exactly my error.

The second was one hundred percent my error.

The first incident occurred last weekend in the City of Lights. Take note, this is not in Spain, but in France. So I don’t feel completely dense about my language slip because my French vocabulary is limited to “bonjour”, “au revoir” and “merci”.

You can add the special French phrase I had to learn for our trip to Paris: “Je suis allergique aux noix.” This means, “I’m allergic to nuts.” Kind of important when you leave the Epipen for your allergy in Madrid …

So upon arriving in Paris last weekend, five friends and I were immediately tempted with Paris’ savory national delicacy: crêpes. Crêperies lined the streets and pumped out alluring aromas of freshly made pancakes. Crêpe stands could be found outside of every major tourist attraction we visited: The Louvre, Cathédrale Notre Dame, Seine River, Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Each boasted photos of crêpes stuffed with fruit and drizzled in chocolate that made all of our mouths water.

Our will power only carried us until 5 p.m.

Exhausted from walking all day, we made our way to one of the several crêpe places near the Louvre. The waiter greeted us with both “bonjour” and “hello”, then handed us the menu. Everyone wanted to sample the crêpes with Nutella made famous in Paris.

I would have loved to jump on the cultural bandwagon, but Nutella is 13 percent hazelnut. The last thing on my list of places to visit in Paris was the emergency room.

There was one flavor listed below Nutella: Calvado. Calvado was not included in my French vocab, so I pointed to the menu and asked the waiter what it meant.

“Brown-dee,” he said.

“Brownie?” I repeated.

“Oui, uh, yes.”

Scrap the Nutella, I wanted a brownie crêpe! And so did everyone else. We went around the table excitedly asking for these calvados.

Next thing we knew the waiter returned with six glasses of amber-colored liquid.

Does this come with the crêpes? we wondered.

We each took a whiff, then a sip, and then choked.

“This is brandy,” my friend said.

Not brownie. Damn.

I went up to the bar and managed to communicate to the waiter through a series of hand gestures and pointing to phrases in my Traveler’s Phrase Book that six giggly girls would probably not come into a crêperie on a Friday afternoon pining for a drink with an alcohol content of 60 percent.

Me with my apple brandy crepes. Yum?

Me with my apple brandy crepes. Yum?

He looked at me angrily and dumped the brandy we’d already sampled back into the bottle.

Then we reordered our crêpes: five Nutella crêpes and one crêpe calvado.

If I couldn’t eat the Nutella and if I could’t have my brownie, may as well try the crêpe doused in apple brandy. Play it off like you knew all along it was alcohol, you just wanted it on a crêpe.

It burned. But at least I had a little pride left.

***

The second language barrier incident of the week left me with no pride.

I’ve been trying to make some more Spanish friends and get involved in the community, so when the priest announced last Sunday an event to which “all are invited” I jumped on the chance. Yesterday at 8 p.m., I went to the Church expecting some kind of prayer service or lecture, some kind of cool community thing.

I sat down in a pew amidst old women clad nicely in slacks and fur coats. There were a few people my age in the corner, but they gave me strange looks.

This isn’t very friendly, I thought.

Then the priest entered. “Welcome,” he said. “We gather here this evening to commemorate the life of our sister Fernanda.”

Who the heck is Fernanda!?

Whoever she was, I had walked into her funeral.

Upon realizing my folly I let out an audible giggle. People looked. You can’t laugh at a funeral! So I made a run for it as soon as the congregation stood up.

How embarrassing! But it makes a good story.

Sorry, Fernanda.

I am trying, trying, trying to find a café I can study in… because I love a dull hum of voices around me, some inciting musical beat, buzzing coffee grinders and colored lights. It’s extra stimulation for me. Basically, I miss the Brew Bayou and am trying to find its Madrid counterpart.

But here, people don’t really study in cafes, or in public for that matter. So I get lots of strange looks when I sit down with my café con leche and open up my back pack. (Large purses are more “de moda” than bulky gray backpacks.) I get even stranger looks when I pull out a notebook. (Students here take notes on plain white computer paper.) And it’s even worse when I bust out the MacBook. (Apple = AMERICAN!)

But whatever. I’m used to it.

There was one time I brought my homework to an antique-looking café by my house. But then I realized it was more like an after-work joint for 50-something men to chain smoke and shoot whiskey than a Brew Bayou.

Today I went to Isolée, a café I read about in my Time Out Madrid city guide. They described it as a coffee bar where the young and trendy make use of the WiFi.

I’m young! I’m trendy (minus the backpack) and I really need WiFi for my homework! Isoée it is!

I came. I saw. And I’m not going back until I’m 35, have a cosmopolitan job, and can taste the difference between bottled waters.

Isolee is not just a coffee bar, but also a fashion, beauty, book, music and home accessory vendor. They sell faddish Pumas, espresso makers and MP3 players.

Café-goers dressed sleekly in black tone with the décor: Walls are white with large stripes of gray and black. Floors are black. Tables and chairs are white, and each have a shiny silver plate that says “Design Edition Isolée.”

My acid orange shirt was rather blinding in that atmosphere.

I did order a café solo con hielo (iced coffee), because it was a beautiful day and I was hot from my walk all the way to Chueca … but when I sat down I realized the WiFi connection didn’t work and that I couldn’t see the beautiful day out of the windows anyways. They had black and white squares painted on them, and ugly mannequins with Isolée-brand clothing blocked my view to the garden plaza outside.

So I downed my drink and asked the waiter with the gelled black hair and eyeliner for la cuenta. He gave me the up-down with the eyes and returned quickly with the check.

Then I skedaddled to the plaza outside to eat the sandwich I’d packed. Isolée serves petit garden salads on square glass platters. You can’t bring your own food into a place like that.

So, I lacked a little tact today. Big deal. I guess I’ll just wait till next semester to leech off MUWireless and bring my own turkey sandwich to the Brew.

And I’ll just go to the library tomorrow.

Check out Isolee’s Web site here.

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 must say a month is far too long to go between blog posts. But I will say that my lack of blogging is not due to lethargy, nor forgetfulness, nor discontent with my experience in Madrid.

I haven’t been blogging simply because the words I write for this Web site are in English.

Ending the day with English seems like a complete copout after going all day speaking Spanish. And it feels strange to switch into English mode.

Even right now it’s taking me longer to form coherent sentences because I’ve begun to think (slowly) in Spanish. Not to say my Spanish is anywhere near where it should be at this point, but I can definitely feel the transition. My dreams are in Spanglish. Yesterday I caught myself switching to Spanish mid-sentence in an e-mail to my roommate. I had two-hour-long conversation about politics with my host family and understood most of it. Slowly…

But I’m realizing that if I really want to learn this language I’m going to have to work at it. We’ve been here five weeks now. The first three I copped out fairly often and used English to talk with Marquette friends here in Madrid. I spent far too much time on Facebook and had my computer at my side at all times.

Now I’m reading one of the Spanish newspapers, El Mundo, each day and writing down words and phrases in a little notebook. I study the words while I’m on the Metro going to class or out for the evening. (Fashion magazines are actually quite helpful because there are pictures.) I sit down and watch TV. American movies are dubbed in Spanish. (Last week we watched Señor y Señora Smith with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.) I listen to the radio, EuropaFM. (That station is kind of cheating because it supplements Spanish pop songs with English songs by Rihanna and Red Hot Chili Peppers, but that’s sort of difficult to avoid … pop culture is pretty much steered by America…)

And some days are harder than others… like when I respond to questions with completely unrelated answers… kind of like today when my host brother asked if I would heat up our lunch in the microwave and I answered that answered that no, I hadn’t eaten yet (or something like that). And then there was that time I said the word “banana” with a Spanish accent instead of actually saying the Spanish word for banana (that was embarrassing). Oh yes, I often make my host family crinkle their brows because they can’t understand what I’m trying to say. But it’s coming.

So the take home message is this: I feel like I’m giving in or giving up if I write in English after trying so hard all day to learn Spanish.

I’ll try to blog in English as much as my conscience allows. I still owe a lot of stories about my host family my daily routine and exciting travels. One day soon. 🙂 But now I’m going to read El Mundo.