Cena de Despedida (Goodbye Dinner)
A few weeks ago, my program had a goodbye dinner. It was really nice. At the end, I gave a speech, going around the table and saying nice things about everyone in the program. I was happy to do it, especially considering that the best relationships that I have with people in Madrid are with my friends from the program. From the dorms to the trips to nights out in Madrid, we’ve gone through this experience together. It wasn’t really hard to think of nice things to say to the people of my program. In general, they’re nice, beautiful, and smart.
The next week, I had my final meeting with Stephen Small, the excellent and very present program director with a lively personality and a brilliant mind. The program’s administrator, Paula, had some kind words for me, saying that I am “authentic and will have a lot of success.” She told me that I have grown the most out of anyone in the program from start to finish, soaking things up como una esponja (like a sponge).
Trip Back to Somosaguas for a Day
I had to run some errands at the shitty campus, Somosaguas, and it gave me some perspective, certainly.
Firstly, the commute there was pretty bad. The bus ride to the suburb where the campus is located can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the traffic. That was a pain that I had to deal with many times, but at least I got to practice my Spanish a little bit on the commute and I never had to wait in line like the morning kids do.
I arrived and picked up my new ATM card. Everything to do with my Spanish bank account from creating the account to using my ATM card (which broke), to transferring money, to using my card for online purchases has been a nightmare. If I had to do it again, I’d have created an account with Charles Schwab and utilize the service that they have that allows for the free withdrawal of money from any ATM around the world.
I’m going to appreciate my American card and the ability to use my iPhone for calling and texting, as well. Having to buy credit for the phone and texting on it are inconveniences. For anyone studying abroad, as long as unlocking the phone doesn’t void the phone’s warranty, I’d say unlock the phone and get a plan from another carrier.
(Sorry for ranting about this)
After going to the bank, I went to visit Paula for the last time. She’s been a great source of advice and support for me, so I thought I’d give her the poster that’s been hanging on my wall for the year. It’s Goya’s La maja desnuda (Pretty nude woman). Her office has quite the collection of posters and decorations, and I’m glad to be able to contribute to her collection, especially given how sweet a person she is, how nice she’s been to me and everyone else in the program, and how much help she’s given me.
After that, I ran into some friends of mine from last quarter. A few of them were really nice and happy to see me and I had a good encounter with them. I went outside and ran into a few more friends from class, including the one who looks like a gorgeous German model who I wrote about in my seventh entry. Unfortunately, even though she yelled my name and hugged me, she didn’t really care about catching up with me. Our relationship felt kind of empty at that point, and it made me realize how little our bond really was. I didn’t help matters when I said I liked the other campus more, but I’m entitled to my opinion and I really didn’t expect those people to be agog and aghast when I said that I liked the other campus. I mean, it is closer one and doesn’t have stupid parties, assemblies, indoor smokers, an empty cafeteria (that people boycotted), anarchists, useless strikes, long bus rides, and people who were less friendly in general. I saw a few of my other friends from class, like the smartest girl with fishnets and myriad piercings you’ll ever see and the Jack Daniels guy from entry 7 who I last saw during finals when he was stressing over his papers and saying “Estoy jodido” (I’m fucked). I remembered that I symbolically ripped by pants the last time I was on the other campus. It’s definitely the ripped pants of campuses, that’s for sure. I left that campus wondering how I took classes there for an entire semester. Well, I did it, but I wasn’t really happy about it. I enjoyed my core classes and saw Paula a bunch of times who I was always happy around, so at least there’s that. There’s always a silver lining.
Later that day I went to my current campus. It was so much better. I ate lunch with one of fabulous girls who I know from class and chilled in the library known by my friend Sean as Ikea because of its selection of furniture. I mostly spent my time there people-watching. The Spaniards surprised me with their decent fashion sense. There were some decent dresses, and I appreciate dresses. While there, I also talked to Karin, a friend from my program who is quite interesting and amazingly smart. I always enjoy plopping down somewhere in that library, even if I don’t always get a lot done there with all of the interesting things going on.
That day was sort of microcosm of my experience and the tale of two semesters. It made me realize how smart my decision to take classes at the Ciudad Universitaria campus was. It really helped to have all my classes there and in the same department. I got to see my friends around and I never had to eat lunch alone. The lunches were great. Definitely a good way to bond with people and for me a lot better than going out to loud bars and clubs where noise and alcohol make good conversation very difficult. I’ve enjoyed the school experience this semester with the Georgetown kids, the people from my program, the international students, and the Spaniards. It’s definitely the kind of experience that I envisioned.
I’ve written about soccer before. This country has a love affair with the sport, and the people channel so much of their passion into being great fans. It’s the new religion in an increasingly secular Spain, as I like to say. Anyway, there were some events of note this season in soccer. Atlético won the Spanish League, which is something they rarely do. I got a chance to see the fans celebrating in the metro after the organized festivities were over. Their chants filled me with joy. Their passion was palpable. It was a tremendous thing to see. Because of this experience, I was rooting for them against their rivals, Real (ray-all) Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League final. I wanted the underdog with the better fans to win.
I went to a packed bar in Sol to watch the game. As I sipped my wheat beer, Atlético took a 1-0 lead. They held it until the very end, when Real suckerpunched them for a goal in added time and went on to win the game in extra time, 4-1. The bar was mostly Real fans, and I was quickly swept up in their energy and changed my allegiances. I honestly didn’t really care about the winner of the game. I just cared about seeing the celebration after. The result led to mixed reactions from the group of people I was with. Some were disappointed because they like Atlético or hate Real (or both). One of my friends casually bet on the game and lost. On the other hand, some were ecstatic. One of the people was friend Wales and kept saying “Garreth Bale is from Wales, and I’m from Wales, and Garreth Bale scored a goal!” It was a funny mix of reactions, and I really couldn’t care less who won. I was just happy that a team from Madrid won and I got to sing “¡Cómo no te voy a querer!” a bunch of times.
I went down to Plaza de Cibeles to celebrate, but was disappointed. The Real fans weren’t even close to as passionate as the Atlético ones. I felt kind of disappointed for Atlético. They were a great team and they came so far. But I really didn’t care. Soccer’s not my game. American football is, and basketball is, to an extent. The 49ers are the only team I’ll cry over.
Firstly, I'll be the first one to admit that I spend too much time reading about the 49ers and watching football highlight videos, but man the 9ers look good this year. Crazy good and crazy improved. That’s kind of insane when you consider that they went 12-4 last year (which was considered a disappointment by many) and came within a play of reaching the Super Bowl (also a disappointment). I really think they added the pieces that will put them over the top.
They’re improved at the WR position with a full season of Crabtree and the acquisition of Stevie Johnson from Buffalo. Kaepernick will continue to progress. The RB position is stacked. Even if Marcus Lattimore, who was once a blue chip RB doesn’t contribute in his return, the team still has Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde (considered by many to be the top RB in this year’s draft), Kendall Hunter (an explosive and underrated change-of-pace back), and as of now LaMichael James. Also Bruce Miller will be healthy, and the FB is important in this offense. As far as the TE position is concerned, one can hope that Vance McDonald will take the next step as a player after a disappointing rookie campaign. We all know what Vernon Davis can do. Maybe an improved WR corps will mean fewer 2-TE sets. The only guy who gave the 49ers consistent production all season from the WR spot last year was Anquan Bolden. Now you have a healthy Crabtree, Bolden, Stevie Johnson, and Vernon Davis, a nice toolbox for Kaep. Marcus Martin might improve a stellar offensive line. He’ll be competing with Daniel Kilgore for the job of starting center. Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial add depth to an outstanding defensive line featuring the ageless Justin Smith. The linebacking corps is the best in the NFL, especially when they can start Brooks-Willis-Bowman-Smith. Bowman will be out for a few games while he recovers from his injury and we’ll see about Aldon Smith’s legal troubles, but I like the depth at that position. The secondary has some questions marks, but Bethea and Brock will be solid and Eric Reid is an emerging star. The 49ers will continue to excel on special teams and have a great coaching staff. Anything but a Super Bowl will be a disappointment.
The UCSB Shooting
Obviously this was a tremendous tragedy. The videos that the killer made were quite disturbing. I went to a candlelight vigil but it started late and instead of feeding my spirituality, I left to feed my stomach with some tacos (although I didn’t even get to the place in time for the good deal on tacos). It was nice to see all of the people there gathering together and supporting each other. They were mostly UCSB students and alumni, as was to be expected. I think I consumed too much of the media reports on the tragedy. Once I stopped reading about the killer I was fine, and so I think I’ll take it easy on my media consumption the next time there’s a tragedy like this. This is America and these things do happen, after all.
I Crashed a Wedding
So this is the story of how I crashed a wedding. It was a Saturday afternoon in Madrid. I had wanted to go to the Real Monasterio de Descalzas, where there are some paintings by Tiziano, but it was sold out, so I headed to La Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, with frescos by famous Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. I’m not the biggest fan of Goya, but it was a great venue. I noticed that the people formally dressed up at the front of the basilica kept looking back. I wondered what they were doing that for. Were they observing the tourists? Suddenly, I realized that they were checking to see if the bride was coming. And soon she did come, accompanied by the organ music to “Here Comes the Bride.” It was a very emotional moment for me, and I don’t even know the people getting married. I felt the joy well up inside me. It was one of the greatest things I’ve seen and one of the most intense reactions I’ve ever experienced. Just beautiful.
Anyways, the ceremony was pretty standard. The priest said some interesting things about how a wedding isn’t just about the bride and groom, but about all in attendance and the feelings and love that those people have regarding the couple. I got to philosophizing about what weddings are for and what my wedding will be like and what it will symbolize. Eventually the ceremony ended and I checked out the rest of the basilica. When I was leaving, I saw a guy Tebowing in the back of the basilica and I asked him about it. He was very nice and informed me about Spanish wedding ceremonies. After we were done talking, he gave me his business card for networking. I thought that was interesting. He works for an international law firm and at the moment I’m not interested in that, but nonetheless I had a nice chat with him.
I’ve definitely gotten into art since I’ve been here. Going to Madrid’s Golden Triangle of art museums over a dozen times has helped in that. I’ve had some great experiences there. I loved the Dalí exhibit. I enjoyed the expressionism and impressionism in the ThyssenI like the sculptures in the Prado and the paintings with brilliant colors and larger-than-life figures by Peter Paul Rubens, my favorite Dutch master. I appreciate Picasso as an innovator even if I don’t love all of his works from an aesthetic standpoint. Understanding modern art has been a worthwhile intellectual endeavor. I’ve enjoyed visiting museums on my travels. My experience at the Louvre was life-changing. I’ve enjoyed the art here and I think I have a solid foundation of knowledge to appreciate art moving forward. My museum visits let me see which artists and works I like, and my internet research gives me some background and information to understand the paintings more.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve actually integrated some Spanish food into my diet. I’ve been eating jamón York (a kind of cooked ham) and chorizo. Since I finished my second large bottle of sriracha, I’ve been using Spanish spices like pungent sweet paprika to flavor my food. I can’t say I’m enamored with the food here, but I did eat well with the family. It’s also been interesting to learn about the various dishes, ingredients, and regional specialties. I’ve learned about the various levels of ham, from the best-marbled jamón ibérico de belleta (acorn-fed Iberian ham) all the way down to the pinkest, most processed Jamón York. Regional specialties include things like milk-fed animals, pulpo gallego (squid from Galicia), sidra y Fabada Asturiana (cider and stew from Asturias in the north of Spain), espinaca andaluza (Andalusian spinach), and my favorite, cocido madrileño, with its six kinds of pork that symbolize freedom from Muslim dietary restrictions. Un buen pisto manchego (veggie stew) never hurt anyone, either. That’s a dish I would make at home. The simple and ubiquitous Spanish omelet, also known as tortilla española, has grown on me as well. Provided the potato and egg mixture has enough flavors, it can really hit the spot. A slice of Selva Negra chocolate cake, napolitana, or palmera cookie can please any sweet tooth, as well. I know that a lot of people aren’t wowed by the food here and its lack of spice, but I’d say that in general se come bien en España (they eat well in Spain). Personally, my diet consists mostly of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. Eating meat is a guilty pleasure and I try to moderate my meat intake knowing all the problems associated with eating meat. I do see the value in splurging calorically once in a while, especially since I’m young. I’m not the type of person who eats sweets often, but for me, there is nothing better than a good dessert.
The Next Few Weeks
For me, the next few weeks will consist of studying, writing papers, planning my trip, and crossing the last few things off my “Madrid bucket list.” I’ve seen a lot in this city, including all of the downtown neighborhoods and most of the better-known museums. I’m happy that I got to see a good amount of Madrid and get a feel for the city. Now that I feel like I’ve accomplished that goal, I want to check out the rest of Europe in a journey that will take me through Italy, France, Belgium, Amsterdam, and London. It should be a great trip.