Gratitude (In All Its Shades and Textures and Layers of Feeling)

The majority of this blog post (or at least a half of what was this blog post) I have subsequently trashed. Why? One, because I complained for a good 3/4 page about the smoking problem in Spain which is something that can't be helped and that shouldn't affect me too badly (and that would have been disrespectful to people I do respect). Secondly, because I realize that, while I don't want to "sugarcoat" the study abroad experience or deny any of my very real feelings, I don't think I have any right to complain about the majority of what I had to complain about (also after two weeks of sitting on my thoughts--as I tend to do--I realized how inconsequential they were). And so, in this blog (and in this week with Thanksgiving rolling itself slowly toward me like the giggling Pillsbury Dough Boy himself) I hope to focus on gratitude

The past, past week was wonderful and can be characterized by two words: friendship and movies. On Sunday, I went to a weird movie with my friends Kyle, Isabel and Charlie called The Kindergarten Teacher which was part of the Sevilla European Film Festival. It was an Israeli film about a sad, middle-aged woman whose obsession with the poetic talent of one of her four year-old pupils leads to disastrous ends (re: jail). The plot was weird, but the desperation and complexity of Nira, the main character, was handled well, the child actors were spectacular and the cinematography was interesting (beautiful light, the camera as a living presence that the characters would sometimes bump or gaze into and that would shift and spin with the narrative, distancing itself for a "stage" effect or following along like an extra as characters moved around a room). I also planned an event for the women in my program called "Woman Crush Wednesday Movies and Milkshakes" which was a huge success (about 12-15 of 30-Ish girls showed up). We went to this kitschy "American" diner called Tommy Mel's and got milkshakes--delicious plus they offered peanut butter for the milkshakes (a rarity outside of Corte Ingles). The Nervion movie theatre was gigantic (and packed) with fairly comfortable seats, and better yet, it was half-price Wednesday so we didn't feel bad about ordering giant boxes of popcorn, too (though maybe we should have, after the decadent milkshakes). The movie we saw was Argentinian and called Relatos Salvajes. It also had beautiful cinematography (long, winding shots of cars on open roads, etc) but otherwise, was really weird and violent (and oddly hilarious at parts--at least to us Americans who were the only ones laughing in the theatre. This disjuncture between American humor and Spanish humor seems to happen a lot). On Thursday, we went to my new friend, Eline's house (friend of Sofie, both from Belgium), and we all went shopping together and then cooked! It was a real taste of my future apartment life (but actually, I hope my cooking can taste that good). We made (well, mostly the actual Belgiums) Belgium pancakes with apples in them, and then we covered them with all manner of sugary goodness (cinnamon sugar, Nutella, whipped cream). It was wonderfully fun mostly because it was such a mixture of people--Belgiums, Americans, Germans--all speaking their second (or third) languages together and bonding over our culinary attempts. Lastly, on Friday night, I went to another movie--an Austrian thriller called Goodnight, Mommy which was super creepy and beautiful and shocking and would-recommend-with-caution (some of the scenes were extremely distressing; just ask the forty year-old man beside me who was curdled up and turned away from the screen for half the movie).

Great things: seeing little improvements and moments of clarity for students like Juan, a boy with Downs, handing me the yellow colored pencil while I was trying to teach him "yellow" with a yellow crayon. Little moments of humanity: Teresa and her best friend, both who are mentally handicapped, pretending to hypnotize each other during our workshop at Asociacion Tandem. Having the Starbucks barista tell me I spoke Spanish very well. A conversation with my host family (parents, Maria Carmen and Rafa) about the education system here compared with the U.S. Many other after-meal conversations with Carmen and Andres about my time here and exchange students they' ve hosted in the past: "You always have a Seville home here. We try to treat you how we would want one of our kids to be treated if they were alone in another country. We eat all together because we want you to feel like family." The kids at my internship who hug me or wave at me or draw pictures for me (one of which was signed "To: Gerlaim, Love: Paula" which I honestly deserve because I forgot that drawing on a desk when I left the school). Really getting to know Sofie in all her kindness and goodness and incredible similarity to the character of Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle (which I have ascribed to her with a deep reverence for the character and this girl herself) and her strength and humility and loving way of being. And so many moments of beauty in the city itself: walking back from el Centro with the delicate shell of the sky cracking pink and purple against the darkening buildings, the Cathedral appearing even more gothic with the impending rain, tuxedoed photographers waiting outside of a church and the bridal party waiting inside, with derby hats jauntily set, for life to begin anew with a simple exchange of words, a whole cloud of character balloons making its way up into the atmosphere, never to feel the greasy, unconditionally loving grasp of a child's hand.

I feel as though lately I've been taking time to really be in the moment. I'm not thinking about what's going on elsewhere, or trying to plan or think ahead, just being and enjoying being and not existing solely in my head (where I so dangerously tend to be all of the time). I am thinking about the future as in the next two quarters at school, this summer, senior year and beyond. But it's not with fear or trepidation or hesitation or frantic anxiety like before. It's with excitement and hope and the feeling that God has some plan for me--a plan where I'm meant to help others and get to know great people and develop myself further as a person. But I'm also settling into myself, something that I haven't done before: I'm not so critical or harsh or wanting so much. I feel comfortable in who I am and what I want and what I'm doing. I don't feel so insecure in friendships or in what I'm doing on a daily basis (personally, academically, extracurricularly). Things seem to be fitting into place and resting peacefully and I'm letting them. There is no hurry or rush and sometimes I just find myself saying, "Wow, I'm happy" in a very conscious, pervading, apparent sense. It strikes me in little moments--walking across bridges and seeing the Giralda clear and crisp in the morning air, running through the rain to class and laughing at myself for forgetting my raincoat again, writing in my Moleskin while sipping cinnamon tea, eating sunflower seeds with my host family with my legs warmed by the heater under the table, laying in my bed with early morning sunlight streaking in from the blue-blue sky over the white-white apartments, walking past the bakery Picnic and waving to the local baker. There's so little pressure here, and I'm learning not to put so much on myself.

A love letter to that which I've been given but have no right to call my own:

I am grateful for: Thanksgiving presentations that Prezi makes pretty (the font of which even Garamondster appreciates); for kids who say they're grateful "for the love God gives us" and "for our family who tries to give us the best they can;" a waiter who knows just how much butter and jam should go on toast; old and new friends (the unnamed and numerous) who understand my future ambitions and fears, my inner quakings and murmurings, my questionings and assertions, my absolute infatuation with email exchanges (those of which make me smile and realize again and again how loved I am and how good it is to be connected to others); Kyle who makes me 82 song playlists complete with poetic descriptions of each artist, challenges me to be a better doodler and writer (as he himself is incredible and so driven) and treats me with such loving care as a friend that he constantly inspires me to be a better one myself; my mom, whose constant positivity, patience and grace, whose quick laughter and wit, whose energizing smile and gentle, cradling eyes, whose absolutely, stunning radiant beauty of being have kept me sane and grounded and buoyed even while a continent away; my dad who with constant reaffirmations and an outpouring of time and well-thought out, well-experienced advice, who with Hemingway looks and way-too-cool ambitions (he's learning how to snow kite surf, friends), who with such tenderness of heart and crystallization of mind, has always shown me what it means to be a good (and badass) person; Samantha, whose creative energy and hilarious spirit, whose patience and resilience and ever-reaching, ever-achieving positivity, whose gentleness and kindness and grace of being, whose quiet and strong heart have guided me as a person and an artist; Kameron, whose leanings and strivings and energetic socializings, her eat-the-world-entire spirit, whose humbleness and eyes ever toward that secret goodness in others, whose nonjudgement and relaxed understanding, tall hugs for short people, never asks too much but deserves all the beauty and all the love the world can give; all of my grandparents: because I can chat with them like friends, because they show me love and attention even when I'm busy in my world, because they send me articles on current events with accompanying pop quizzes, because they make me look better than I could ever look myself; the opportunity that is the here and now: a program, a university, a volunteering job, an internship, a city, a language, a host family that are constantly challenging me as a person, a thinker, a woman, a writer, a Christian, a cemented personality, someone comfortably situated in the way I was--I feel so different, so very renewed; God for without Him, nothing would be and for the for the being that He has made--this time of gentle wrenching away from the past, the small dancing steps toward the future, the stretching of backs and creaking of long-resting bones, the cooling taste of oranges after supper at ten o'clock at night, the never-faltering laughter of my host family, the sensation of ancient cobbled streets through thinly soled shoes, the frantic energy of school children before recess, the realization that the world is so vastly different and large and layered and beautiful and terrifying and contains multitudes and multitudes of people who I will never know or never understand and who will never know or never understand me but who I feel with the same pulsing feeling as I feel in my own wrist when I circle it in pen with a false tattoo. Lastly, and especially, those people who read my blog until the last sentence even though the majority of it is a ranting, philosophical, poetic, wandering mess. 

Alistair is here. Tomorrow marks 3 weeks. I hope I can take this growth and goodness of feeling and gratefulness back with me; it might be the only thing to keep me warm this winter (bienvenido, Polar Vortex Dos). CJB


Flamenco and the Depths

Because I have cool, generous friends whose parents are also cool and generous (a huge thank you to the Hanchers especially Kyle T), I had the pleasure of seeing the traditional Spanish spectacle of Flamenco this past week as well as the opportunity to enjoy way too many delicious tapas. Perhaps, only one thing to say (followed by many more): I can see why people write novels about Spain. There is something in its "manner and way of walking" that is wholly unique and original and raw. This traditional type of dance and song and guitar playing makes you feel. And the feelings felt are the sort of feelings one feels when they are actually doing something (like yelling at someone or kissing a baby) rather than sitting in a comfortable chair in a darkened room (goose bumps and shivers and all of that jazz). The guitar playing was beautiful and complex (and the expression of the guitarist's face a little humorous). The ending sounded like someone running up a flight of stars to meet someone that they missed dearly but loved very much, dancing with them in their tower room, skirts aswirl, and then knocking down walls and clashing swords until they finally broke free of the castle walls in the last breath of notes (very Quijote) which ended abruptly and poignantly with a flourish of the instrument itself. The female dancer was incredible. She reminded me of a matador with her shawl and the way she whipped it around as if simultaneously fending off foes and summoning lovers. Her movements were fierce and precise like a soldier's. She encompassed feminine power in her rapid steps, her whirling glances, her erect cheek bones. She held her dress like a bouquet and her body like a cello--straight and lean and with a sturdy base from which all her deep movements flowed. The male dancer looked a little like Justin Timberlake (I half expected him to dance to Suit and Tie), and his movements were softer and slower. His hands, holding castanets, moved delicately, and the grace and fragility of his body reminded me of the soft stroking gestures of ballet.

In Spanish, the word for deep is "profundo," which I find slightly magical and fascinating. In Spanish, something isn't just deep as in "that canyon is very deep, possibly even 200 km so" but it's profound, causing us to think and wonder and interrogate: "that canyon is so deep and mysterious and possibly holds all of life's secrets or at least 200 km or so of them" (I just randomly picked 200km so pay no heed to that). This past weekend, we went to Ronda. At first, we were all like, "What's in Ronda?" "Why are we going to Ronda?" (ahemKyleahem) but then we got there, and after walking a little ways, we all realized: Ronda is deep--sliced down the middle by a gash of a gorge that circles its old town and bleeds through to the mountains on the other side. It is a common space for a mixing of cultures and times (ancient Arabic baths and Roman buildings and the second biggest Plaza de los Toros in the world) as well as the point of convergence for plains covered in soft, roaming sheep and mountains, rising sharp and ever-durable on the horizon. It's a town that inspires a feeling of depth in those who visit--a feeling of some sort of limitless existence that seems just over those mountains, a thing bright and just-almost-tangible like sunlight, that comes in swooping whispered reminders in the form of cold, wakeful breezes. In addition to stirring my soul, Ronda also had a delicious bakery called Daver where it took me a good twenty minutes just to decide what I wanted (I was the first one to walk in but the last to sit down). The journey for more adventures (and many more baked goods) continues. CJB


On Birthdays, Holidays and Pilgrimages (or The Longest Blog Post Ever)

On Halloween, I got locked out of my apartment and wrote part of this blog from my perch in the slightly deflated, bubblegum pink chairs of Mascarpone, a local ice cream shop. The slightest wisp of chocolate covered donut hovered on the plate in front of me in an attempt to fool the fierce Mascarpone waitresses into thinking I had any claim to my two or so hour habitation of their establishment (atypical behavior for an ice cream shop guest but necessary as they had wifi). As it was All Hallows Eve, kids kept coming in during this time and asking for candy to which these snappy waitresses would scream “We don’t have any,” leading the kids to weakly plead for water (which, though viperous, the women were obliged to give). It made me terribly, terribly nostalgic for the Halloweens of my Midwestern youth where candy and friendly adults were abundant (if not overly so). At my practica earlier that day, I had dreamily drawn haunted houses with the kids and tantalized them with the classic Halloween traditions of America. Halloween is something relatively new in Spain (like, well, democracy) so most people are still getting accustomed to it. My host family personally doesn’t participate because, as my host grandkids told me, “We’re Christian.” Alright then.

Birthday Card from Andres. Have I said that I love him before this? I love him.

Birthday Card from Andres. Have I said that I love him before this? I love him.

My birthday was a spectacular demonstration of love on the part of everyone I know (abroad or in the good ole US of A). On my birthday eve, some of my friends and I went to the “Feria de Naciones” (which is a thinly veiled festival of racism/exoticism/misrepresentation of other cultures-ism but still fun nonetheless). I had the “Obama ribs” (yeah, I know) and my good friend, Andie, lovingly purchased and shared a caramel apple crepe with me. Most importantly, I spoke with my mom (the first person I talked to on my actual bday in Spain/the US/my life) who wished me a Happy Birthday and reminded me (as she does annually) how I felt much like the indigestion from Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. Now, my mom had also sent me her WORLD (or at least Williams Bay) famous chocolate chip cookies which even after a week in transit still had their signature taste and appeal (by this point--12 am on my actual bday--I had already eaten 3). I gave them out to my friends, and they all raved about them (the true Taste of America we had all been craving). I think only the best mom in the world sends your home to you in baked good form. My sisters and my dad sent me selfies wishing me a happy birthday (they had, each morning for my "Birthday Week," been sending me pictures of the sunrise over their side of the Atlantic). I also celebrated the “Bday Eclipse” (Trademark Kyle H) of my friend Richard’s bday and mine (thanks to the time difference, we had the same bday for a few brilliant hours). My actual bday started early and well with my sweet roommate Camille gifting me dark chocolate, my host parents telling me that I was “their child, too," and messages from the likes of Mickey Hopz, Maytal Mark, Dre, Megan Behnke (cannot begin to describe her email) and Aditi wishing me well (my other half, Caroline M, had sent me love the day before). And then I went to a cute cafe called La Cacherreria with Kyle, the loveliest of boys, who gifted me not only his fabulous presence but also cinnamon tea, cake and a notebook with cats on the cover full of writing prompts. If you haven't realized from reading this blog (and the absurd amount that I talk about him in it), he is very thoughtful and kind. After that, I had class and my good friend Charlie gave me a cute pie and then Mexican food with Maria Sorkin (one of the funniest and most delightful humans I know) as well as my friend Sofie (who kindly gifted me chocolate), Camille, Alana (another beautiful/genuine person), Charlie, Sam Prose (love him) and Suzy (who I have often--and yet not enough--fan-girled over. She gifted me a palmera). Then we went to Starbucks (because it was my birthday so why not be American) and got a caramel machiatto to help me survive Ivan and his Cervantes class. Which I did successfully (with a brief reprieve to say hi to my friends, Jess and Hope) and then I skipped English at the behest of my host family (they wanted to throw me a birthday party). I was allowed to invite one friend so, of course, I invited Kyle. My host family sang to me in English and Spanish while I blew out candles on the tart Carmen had made. Andres gave me a card (see above) which he’d made using google translate (and his gigantic heart) and the host grandkids gave me a very pretty necklace. I felt so so loved, and I couldn’t stop thanking them for making me feel like a part of the family (it was--well, is--difficult to be so far from my own). I then spoke briefly with Emily “light of my life” Fung before eating pizza with the host kids. After that, I opened presents over Skype with my (real)ly wonderful family, who even from overseas continuously show me how loved I am (I mean, they sent me to Spain so how could I not be!?). They gave me comfy pjs for the upcoming chilly Seville nights, a cute cardigan (which I have already worn several times) and the best of cards ("Love you. Bye" with a little doodle in classic Geoff Brown form). My sisters both gave me wonderful gifts, too. Kameron, who took time from her leadership conference (this girl is killin' it in college) to Skype me, gave me a leather-bound (I'm a bit of an addict) copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (one of my most beloved books). Sam made me a video compilation of our lives/this past summer together (she's this wicked good, current/future cinematographer) which made me both bawl and laugh. I also got to speak over Skype with my Grandma and received lovely emails from my Mimi and my Grandpa Don. My family is so very, very thoughtful: the best people I know, hands-down. After getting emotional and filling up to the brim with love and affection from my family, I headed out for the evening with my friends. A note: this is the only time I will mention alcohol consumption in my blog because I don’t want my children to read this in the future and suspect me of being a drunkard or for my future employers to shake their heads at my ~wild~ nights (of which there have been none, employers). Also, I’m 21 now so I have the right. So I drank mojitos which are deliciously sweet and minty (a quick favorite) at two bars: one small and a little loud with wine barrels to sit on, the other modern and American (Plan B was the name) with pop art on the walls and popcorn for 1 euro and giant cups to share (which some people did but others didn’t because #ebola) and awful bathrooms but no one really cared and the warm presence of friends like Megan and Andie and Isabel (who gave me the cutest bday card) and Kyle singing Whitney Houston and Alana and Eden cuddling and the spirit of Suzy and Charlie and Calee and Tim and Mapote (a welcome and wished for surprise). And the night ended not too early nor too late but in hugs and a falling into bed comforted by the reminder that in my blessed life hundreds of beautiful souls for some reason (God only knows) have met up with mine along the way and decided that it’d be worth a second to pause and rest and come to know. For this, I am grateful (and it's also the reason why this blog is so long. I wanted to acknowledge everyone who made my day so special, and I've probably failed at that because there are so very many good people in my life. If I forgot you, know I think of you now and that I'm sorry and grateful).

Madrid was delicous (gluten free cupcakes, normal cupcakes with blue frosting turning my teeth blue, cheesecake, buffets, etc) and autumnal and big and reminded me slightly of Chicago (we stayed at a Best Western) with great finds in the outdoor market (a ten euro, canary yellow Burberry sweater) as well as in the lobby of the hotel (Maggie Mantel, who is a wonderful, calm, hilarious, kind individual who I had the pleasure to come to know last year). The art in the museums (both Reina Sofia and el Prado) was beautiful and expressive and a little over my head (I could appreciate most of it aesthetically). I was really struck emotionally by one painting in particular—that of a drowning dog (The Dog by Goya) which was so sad and lonely (a sky of bleached yellow towering over the small, dirty face of that lost mutt) that I had to buy a postcard of it. The hyper train ride there was also very fun, and the train ride back was even better (Kyle told me the second half of his life story). 

The pilgrimage was a 50 km, 2 day hike of part of El camino de Santiago from Guillena to Castiblanco to Almaden de la Plata. It was hard and revelatory and reaffirming. Not 30 minutes into the journey I had paid for my curiosity by getting a few dozen little needles in my fingers from a prickly pear I had picked from a cactus (Me: “I think you can eat this.” Companions: “Please don’t”) and a stain of olive juice down the front of my shirt from picking some olives off of the trees we passed. The first day was exhausting and fun and quiet (except for the parts on the highway where we got cheered on or warned by drivers and bikers alike. One ostensibly American woman actually stopped to ask if we were lost: “There’s nothing for 15km,” she said. “Exactly,” we wanted to answer). We walked through fields of olives and oranges and little divot filled paths that savored of the stampede scene in the Lion King and passed moaning cows and horses that looked like Shadowfax (I did cry out to one of these longingly on the highway #newyearspast). Castiblanco, the town we stopped at overnight, was quaint and very white and hilly and so small and Spanish that we stuck out of it like the sorest of thumbs (we actually had people take photos of us and a group of young boys mob-laugh at us when one of us accidentally ran into the other). This journey (while we hoped it would be a reprieve from the usual--it was a religious journey, after all) still consisted of various catcalls: like from a man with his two five year old children who pointed at us and counted us like one might count flower petals: “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro guapas” (No, sir, we are not thinking, feeling human beings) and an exhausted biker, barely making his way up the hill, taking time to yell between gasping breaths: “Guapas.” That evening, we wandered through the streets and sat and watched the sunset on a hill over the city (everything so soft with the cooling blues of evening and the orange sun escaping so fast-fast-fast away from the Spanish countryside as if reminding us to take our journey slow-slow-slow). We ate at a very local bar (the owner rolled a spare tire into the place while we were eating) with a very grumpy (or dry-humored? we couldn’t tell) waiter and had the best goat cheese with honey ever. We went to bed early (around 9) at the safest, coziest hostel which was really just a family’s house (complete with photo shrine to their kids on their dining room table). The second morning consisted of waking up relatively early, buying bocadillos (sandwiches) from a local store and sending Sofie (who had suffered, without complaint, huge blisters the day before) on her way home. For the first 15km of the second day, we walked over the hilliest highway ever. It was terrible and really beat us down, but we finished it and got to the most beautiful part of our journey—15km of uninterrupted and absolutely departed-from-any-sort-of-civilization nature reserve. The views were incredible as our path winded through the forested mountains, over craggy rocks and various ponds. It wasn’t too hard (we entertained ourselves with music, gossip, life stories) until the very final hill. We had joked the whole time about the “trials” of our pilgrimage (the Perilous Plain of Cow Pies, etc) and whether or not we would have to scale a mountain. Turns out we did. The last part of the trail was sheer vertical cliff. We stopped, gathered what was left of our physical reserves and mental drive and forced ourselves up the face of it. As I charged upward, I felt my Sicilian blood pounding through my veins and thought of the determination and strength of will of both my mother and grandmother and how they would do this without complaining, without looking back and with a mind toward victory. We got to the top! On one side was the the beautiful valley we had just come from so we were able to look back on our entire journey; turning around, on the exact opposite side, was our destination town: Almaden de la plata. I can’t express what joy and gratitude I felt to have made it (we’re talking Dance Marathon levels of exhaustion here). On the final little path leading to Almaden, there was a cross on a little outcropping of rocks that looked over the town. We stopped for a few moments there to take pictures, and I was reminded of how grateful I should be for the ability to be here, for the sheer, inexpressible, incomparable opportunity it has been to see how large the world is and to be able to come to know even just a small fraction of it. We entered the town to the typical spanish greeting of the oinking of a bunch of young piglets and a small coalition of locals who offered us “Buen camino” with smiles of admiration (and humor). A woman filling up her water bottle at the local well told us where to get to the bus station and then we went and got ice cream and sat for a couple of hours (we had made incredibly good time, arriving 2 hours early for the bus back to Seville). The man who sold us our ice cream was wonderful and actually ran back to his house (twice) to get us the kinds we wanted; he was well liked, it seemed, by the whole town as at least ten cars honked at him when they passed his stand. Unfortunately, things turned slightly sour as we were waiting for the bus. A group of 15 12 year-olds ganged up around us and started badgering us. At first, they seemed harmless, only asking us where we were from. Then, however, they began to practice the most vulgar English phrases on us, and after having walked for 2 days straight, I wasn’t having any of it. “Don’t bother us,” I said, in Spanish which just riled them up more. We tried to ignore them but then they began to SPIT sunflower seeds in our faces. This is when I lost it and stood up and yelled at them (slightly obscenely) and asked them where their parents were. This just incensed them more, and I felt absolutely helpless and objectified. It was awful—like we were zoo animals who they were hungrily prodding with sticks. As I was sitting there, trying to ignore the sunflower seeds that were hitting my face and shoes, I couldn’t help thinking of how minorities have been stigmatized over time and how horrible humans can be (and how we learn to be so horrible even at such a young age)! Instead of wanting to know us and talk to us, they pinned us as “the Other” and decided to torture us because of our difference. It was alarming and dehumanizing and awful. Luckily, one of the friends of their parents strolled by, and I called to her. She came over and gave them a talking to and then told them that she would be seeing their parents the next day (the ultimate bomb one can drop). The whole episode made me realize that it’s so important not to generalize or stereotype or make "other" a person simply because you see them as different than yourself. This is something I’ve known intellectually for a long time, but I feel like it’s not something I necessarily follow on a day-to-day basis or have felt until now. I often casually comment on things being “so Spanish” when they are slow or undeveloped or relaxed which seems harmless but isn’t because it’s a way of pinning down a group of people to a certain set of characteristics and making those things define them exclusively. Good to realize, better to realize having had such a shocking experience myself. Eyes open, feet sore, I continue on my way. CJB

Any Title Is Sufficient

I would like to begin this blog with a short dialogue between Fernando, a seven (six? eight?) year-old who I tutor, and me at Maristas Catholic School on Friday: 

  • Fernando (in his freshly hatched English): "You look like the teacher at my house. And you have the same name as my teacher at home!"
  • Me (in choking voice as I've been in this kid's home for at least 10 hours over the past few weeks): I am your teacher, silly!
  • Fernando (blank, sheepish stare with mild-to-no recognition)

Ahh, in youth, as in senility, the forgetfulness comes. Tutoring and teaching have been good if a little exhausting after nights spent with my friends feeling out our place in this humble-hugish town (yes, we have managed to find the move on occasion). The Sevillian night is beautiful: shards of glass sprinkled on the sidewalk like fallen stars, reflecting the light in the dancing, twinkling blinks of a harshly incomplete mosaic, the yellow street lamps trying not to be forgotten, reflecting on the river like the lingering trails of Midas' fingers through the current. Needless to say, there's a broken sort of grandeur about it all that suits the city.

My North American Lit class has been interesting, enlightening and difficult. Pepa, the professor, has looked at me for authority on both the factual existence of the East and West Eggs in Long Island (I know nothing of them and was recently surprised to learn that one of my friends lives on one of these elusive "eggs") and the amount of football fields 40 acres would span ("Um...I mean...yeah I have no idea"). I was useless. There also exists a very tenuous and gossamer power structure within the class which I am thrice weekly concerned about upsetting. First of all, being the only native speaker of English in the class has made me a subject of both silencing fear and whispered ridicule. Whenever I read aloud in class, the whole room turns to me (a room of 40+ people) to stare at my braided, bespectacled extranjera self. I also had several people repeat in mimicking, poorly muted tones my shocked pronunciation of "Oh My Gosh" after Pepa took five minutes in class to speak exclusively to me about Ibiza and the numerous suicidal and drunken people who go there (Very educational and very unnecessary, Pepa. Thank you). I feel very self-conscious in class (which is both something I always and never feel) and have an either-or agreement with myself only to speak once or read once during class because I don't want to be that American know-it-all girl. This can be more or less harmful at times. The other day, I read aloud a full monologue from The Hairy Ape (a play in which the proletariat dialect is even a task for me to pronounce) and sat back contentedly to take notes for the rest of the class. Pepa then began to explain how Yank, the main character, was a CLOG in the machine. She went to the board and wrote CLOG. And I sat there and thought about my place as that American know-it-all girl and about how fragile Pepa's power over her class was and how established yet precarious their respect for her could be. And so I sat silently and watched as 39+ students scrawled CLOG in their notebook, storing it away in the back of the their minds for the midterm in two weeks in which they will inevitably write CLOG in the machine and Pepa will grade it, saying "Yes, yes, they did learn something in the first half of North American Literature Two." And I am to be the only one (as well as you all, I suppose) to know the truth. Pepa is brilliant, though, and we've talked a lot recently about the consumer society that plagued Gatsby's time and that infects our society today. I'm super interested in this idea of the "want want want" culture--the competitive, individualistic, ever-pushing, ever-climbing, ever-discontented beast of which we now find ourselves in the belly. It's also cool because Pepa is so detached from American culture that she really seems to give a comprehensive look at it (she's not mired down herself by years of living and drinking that patriotic potion of red, white and blue). 

My friend, Isabel, invited my other good friend, Kyle, and me to a Jewish service that she was giving the other day (twas the celebration of the beginning of the reading of the Torrah for the year). We went, of course, because, though we are gentiles, we still have a very great interest in Judaism (and basically anything related to the lovely and mature Isabel). It was strangely located in a rented space provided by Texas Tech University above an odd Christian book store (picture, please: mumbling, crouched, portly older gentleman with hairy ears leering at us from behind the counter and an assortment of texts, including Ser santo o no, eso es la pregunta). The service was short and very, very sweet. Isabel led several prayers in her (en)chanting, lyrical voice, and while Kyle and I didn't know what to do (there is a bowing in parts and a taking of steps forward and back), we enjoyed listening to her and just being present. Kyle and I did our best to awkwardly sway, but there was no need to understand because in a way we already did and in faith, that warm feeling of togetherness and connectedness is sometimes enough. My favorite part of the ceremony was the end when a young boy read the first few lines of Genesis in Spanish. I had tingles, and I couldn't help but feel connected to the people in that small room in a way based entirely on some mutual understanding of humanity. Here we were, in Spain, listening to the first few lines of the Old Testament being read in Spanish, passing around a cup of wine, all flesh and blood, all praying and hoping and searching for a little bit of understanding and safe harbor in such a rowdy, tumultuous world. Anyway, it was really nice (and the excellent selection of homemade hummus, cookies, brownies and salads at the end was a fitting end to such a cozy evening).

Granada, this past weekend (yesterday and today), was wonderful. On the way, the landscape was so serene and tranquil and pure (unlike the brash and bustle of Seville). We passed random castle after random castle, winding our way by bus toward hills lying shaded blue and grey across the far horizon, sneaking along the outskirts of fields that rolled out from the highway comfortably clothed in an assortment of patterned sweaters stitched by olive trees. The city itself was cool as all get out. The streets were full of vintage stores which we perused with childish curiosity and mild surprise (ancient Bret Favre Packer #4 and Michael Vick #7 jerseys being some of numerous finds, along with life-saved sculptures of the Alien and Predator). We also witnessed two seconds of a parade, which was long enough to leave me with a satisfied hope of Spanish joy: men garnished in military buttons, ribbons and braids hosting a (also life-saved) ornate statue of their special Virgen above their heads as a marching band played behind, the entire unit marching through a crowd of loud and (naturally) smoking Spaniards. The Alhambra, too, was beautiful and decorous and extravagant and the site of a number of pigeons which our tour guide referred to as "ancient mobile telephones." The roses there reminded me of my mother. CJB


In Two Week's Time

The days after a sick day always feel like a miracle because when you're sick, being healthy seems impossible (and you say things to your parents like, "I don't want to die here."). You're grateful in these healing days to be walking and to feel just the slightest bit weak (rather than to be confined to your bed drooling over the diner food in Sleepless in Seattle--the actors aren't even enjoying it, you realize. You know you would). You're grateful to be hungry and to be able to eat. Sick days themselves bring the quiet time needed to reflect on two too-busy weeks (as well as the not-so-quiet time to wale to your parents on the phone over your fears about ebola).

My práctica began this past week! "Práctica" vaguely translates to internship but really just means that I get to go and help teach students English twice a week at a private Catholic school called Maristas. I had two distinct beginnings to my first two days volunteering. On Wednesday, I walked into a classroom of seven year-olds who all cried out at the sight of me (and in Spanish): "Another one!?" (I should probably mention that the teachers of the school have fed them the false fact that I do not understand Spanish. An interesting and sometimes frustrating illusion to uphold). However, I seemed to have won them over because ten minutes into the class, we were all happily bobbing and jiving to what I will refer to as "The School Bag Song" (the kids learn British English here), and one girl even delighted us with the ever-essential "Sprinkler." At seven these Spaniards can shake it better than I have ever been able to do in my (almost) 21 years. The start of my Friday at Maristas was a little more interesting. The kids were friendly (immediate questions: Where are you from? and Do you have a boyfriend?), and the teacher asked if I would lead them in the "Our Father" prayer. This terrified me slightly as whenever I have to do it aloud in church in the US, I always find myself stumbling through "as it is in Heaven," and often I end up saying something like "at ease in Heaven" or "Aziz (Ansari) in Heaven." Also, as I'm not Catholic, I'm always uncertain whether or not I'm supposed to add that last bit that some churches always add (even now as I write this, I can't remember what it is). So, there was a bit of anxiety with regards to this whole leading-the-children-in-the-Light thing; however, wanting to leave the children and teacher with a good impression, I spoke slowly and purposefully, and everyone repeated quite naturally after me (we only had to repeat the last verse--success!). Other notable things happened throughout the day, too. I learned that Spanish children learn to pronounce how the English say the letter "i" by mimicking the way they would normally cry out in pain (the teacher: "What happens when you hurt your finger? Ay!!"). Federico, the Arts and Crafts teacher (yes, there is such a thing, and yes, my career plans have changed), allowed me to draw Spongebob Squarepants on the board and then was so pleased with my drawing that he asked everyone to try and copy it. For some reason, the whole episode harked back to a third grade moment in which I had drawn Captain Underpants on the board in Mr. Oxley's class and Sam G. erased it (Maybe this was God's way of making up for it? A positive karma of sorts?). Anyway, I think I'm in the right place because I left the school lobby on Friday to the tune of Phil Collins' In the Air Tonight. I've also started tutoring a family friend's group of four children; it's a little more difficult than the structured classroom setting because it's really just me and alternating pairs of ruffians locked in a room for two hours. I tried the Spongebob trick on them and while they were pleased, they were less impressed than their school aged counterparts. One of them wore a pink matador uniform to class one day and then proceeded to draw a green marker mustache on himself--a true emblem of Spanish masculinity (swathed in pink with frills? Sounds about right). We'll see how this experience goes, but I'm already thinking about how it can fit into my future. The Peace Corps has always appealed to me, but now (as I've started to realize just how important my family is to my mental health and overall happiness), I'm considering applying to Teach for America and City Year as well. 

I had the pleasure to visit three very distinct, very interesting places these past two weekends. One was Córdoba which houses not only a 2000 year old bridge but also a Catholic Cathedral that was once a Mosque. This "Mezquita" is one of the most exquisite places I have ever been to. The mosque half is simple, geometric, repetitive; that of the cathedral: gaudy, marvellous, overwhelming. It made me wonder if in the future, when some outside force comes to examine the remains of this planet (I do believe in aliens), they'll admire the human race for their incredible ability to cohabit in spite of religious differences. And we, from that very far off, very high up place, will sadly shake our heads and wonder what the world could have been like if that were true. In addition to Córdoba, I went with a small group to the National Park (Parque de Doñana) about 30 minutes outside Sevilla. The park is a mixture of dry fields, cool forests and swampy marshes and home to giant cattle as well as delicate flamencoes. I'm hoping to visit again and do a more involved hike (perhaps toward el oceano). Lastly, I just came back today from Tarifa (the southern most city in Spain and Continental Europe). Tarifa, Tarifa, new delight of my heart, how I walked your streets and thought of what joy my family would have in being there (basically everywhere I go/everything I do is framed by this). How cool to stand on a strip of land between Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, to be on Europe staring at Africa and peering across the water toward America, to feel how small and intimate the world really is at the same time as I felt limitless and large, the breezes gusting, the sunshiny day glazed infinity in the crystalline water. The next morning, waiting for the sunrise, cold and pink--a smothered watercolor over the African mountains. I fell in love there (and the pastries that we had in the three times we went to a singular bakery weren't half bad either).

I've also had several interesting interactions with my host family, lately, not the least of which was the time Andres asked me if I knew the Arctic Monkeys (quick reminder: he's 78) and then proceeded to use his hands to mimic what he thought they looked like on stage (a clumsy, jumpy animal). I had the duty to explain to Carmen and Andres "FOMO" when they asked how it was possible for someone to do so much in one day and also found out that Sacha is adopted from Russia (which explains why he takes Russian lessons). Rafa (Maria Carmen's husband, my host son-in-law and Sacha's dad) and I have engaged in several great conversations about competition versus creativity and gender, living and work in Seville. He also showed me a card trick he used to do frequently at family parties (he's somewhat of an amateur magician).

Spain is as good as ever. I wander a lot, and on my wanderings, I run into different people or pass by different things that make me contemplate life. Passing by a famous churro stand by the Isabel bridge, I had to stop and pester the man who was hand-making them because it reminded me so much of my dad making pizza in our kitchen (Me, intelligently: "You're making churros?" Him, in Spanish: "Duh" Me: "Que guay"). Or while stopping to buy a chocolate chip cookie (because they too reminded me of my mother), I told the woman behind the counter that I was homesick, and she smiled at me with gentle half-understanding. Or while walking out of the triana market on a pleasant Tuesday morning, I had a moment of connection when a woman sang "Contento el Corazon," and I gave a smile and she had a laugh (it's lovely to rest and be contented, no?). Or hearing children running around in a playground behind a city wall and having it be so real that I felt as if, when I closed my eyes, they should have been playing around my feet, balls rolling over my toes, having to dodge lines of hopscotch and strands of jump rope. Or passing an amiable workers' strike where everyone is chatting and holding banners but it's all very casual--very Spanish. Or just as I fall asleep one night, outside my window, the not-so-soft rendition of "cumpleanos feliz" floats up to me reminding me that I am alive and well in a city that really never sleeps.

I've had wonderful times spent with friends--flamenco on the street, a big round moon lighting our way, a feeling of ease, walking slowly, letting the world unfold before us with no rhyme or reason, everything natural and unfurling, comfortable like spreading a picnic blanket across grass. I've had good conversations with my new Spanish friend Juan and interrogated him about Christopher Columbus (a hot button topic here) to which he cleverly responded that he thought CC had the Pope sanctioned "copyright" but hadn't really discovered anything at all (Juan also warned me about which bathrooms to use at the University which endeared him to me even more).

I also think I've found a place in which I'd like to spend my time, with open windows and the kind smiles of the older gentleman who owns the store and helps me open the door because it's push not pull, the patience of the waiter at the bar as he takes my order and cuts his full leg of ham, fresh squeezed orange juice and toasted circles of bread covered in jam and butter. It's not the kind of place you show others (no, not at all de moda like the barrio I've fallen in love with near las Setas). No, it's an ordinary place but just so ordinary and comfortable as to make it a little bit magical. It feels local. And while I don't necessarily, that's just what I'm looking for. CJB


Coopcakes and the odious doldrums

I would like to start (and possibly finish) this blog post by describing my past Saturday because I believe it to be a fairly accurate miniature of my time in Spain thus far.

It started out as follows:

Friday evening, being semi-lackluster and anti-social (an unsettling mood for me and one that obviously betrays some pointedly malicious culture shock), I forewent going out with friends in order to Yelp bakeries in Spain. Therefore, on Saturday morning, after I arose and ate the typical Spanish breakfast of toast slathered in plum marmalade and washed down with de-caf coffee (the most traditional Spanish breakfast is actually toast dowsed in olive oil and sugar), it seemed only sensible to set out for the number one bakery in Seville--Ofelia. I realize, as I begin to recount this day, that I have been completely remiss in describing Seville; You've yet to really know the exact textures, colors and feelings that I've been blessed to experience. Well, here they are, in as true a manner as I can describe them. Walking through Seville on a Saturday, one undergoes the strangest sensation that somehow she is on fast forward in a world on pause. The people move in the most lackadaisical manner, their watches ticking away meaningless seconds--a needless quantification of something already qualified by the taste of their Cruz Campo and the sound of their children's laughter. Yes, while Sevillians are a slow people normally, they are astonishingly slower on the weekends. One (willingly or not) finds oneself swept up by this lethargy and, by early afternoon, precedes with the same gentle gate and wandering mind that accompanies so many enchanted tourists through the streets. The difficulties on days such as this seem only to be whether or not one finds it proper to order one certain tapa or the other, leaving one to inevitably decide, finger hovering over the menu as the waiter nods knowingly, that it would be absolutely impossible to choose and please give me the fried eggplant with honey, the paella and the lomo, por favor (all of this expressed in passingly painful Spanish, of course). The children, on these days, cartwheel through the streets like something out of a Land of Nod catalogue--all of them twinned in matching outfits and hair done in bows and braids. They are free to run, kick balls or lay on benches gazing idly at passersby. One is overtaken by the pleasing sensation of having stepped into a world gone perfectly and properly wild.

It was through this world that I rambled on Saturday morning, my ballet shoed feet carrying me to the surprisingly tiny and wonderfully simple little bakery of Ofelia. Inside, I was a little dismayed to find the only table occupied by a swarm of women Instagramming pictures of their sweets and crafts (Ofelia has both the pleasure and the pain of serving such a dual purpose). However, this halting feeling was quickly overcome by delight and slight anxiety. If you know me (or my Skype name), then you very well know how difficult it was to contemplate choosing only one of the variety of delicacies offered. Yet, having decided, I blissfully exited the store, cinnamon frosted, fruity (I think there was pineapple and carrot? Puzzling? Yes. Satisfying? Definitely.) cupcake in hand. I thoroughly enjoyed said cupcake on a bench next to a very interesting and thought-provoking sculpture of various books with titles such as Invisible Stories or Forgotten Stories. After this, I idled home, stopping once to enjoy the elegant hats, dresses and manicured faces of a wedding party at the Cathedral and a second time to connect to the wifi (pronounced wee-fee) at the university (a building perfumed as strongly by a layer of cigarette smoke as fresh paint).

At home, a kind of grumpiness overtook me (as it sometimes does), and so I ate lunch in a kind of sullen and bored way with Carmen and Andres before excusing myself to my bedroom where I spoke with my parents and sisters via Facetime. After a few moments with my family, the Florence in my mother encouraged me to shake it off, and so I tried my best to do so. Which led, as is the way with enthusiasm (another story that will follow these ramblings), to a very fun afternoon enjoyed doubly in Spanish and English. I spent quite a while playing the Spanish versions of Hide-and-Seek and Red Light/Green Light with my host grandchildren. I have not so acutely suffered from lack of confidence in my Spanish as when my four-year-old host granddaughter, Ima, muttered "A dios mios" at my ineptitude in understanding her explanation of the game's rules. After this, I skyped with two of my best friends, Michael and Caroline. Michael and Caroline, being the hilarious, wonderful, sweet, caring people that they are, encouraged me out of what little gloom remained. And so, feeling much sunnier than before, I went with one of my new best friends, Clark, for coffee (with gelato in it) and an interesting and lively conversation about books and classes.

Then the evening came, and I once again was astonished by Seville's charms and by God's faithfulness and perseverance. We all went to an hour and a half long mass at the church down the street; I had been warned that it would be long, but the entire thing was one of the most delightful church services (and events) that I've ever attended. The mass was (not lightly) fragranced by the aftershave of a number of Spanish gentleman (much as I tend to be after exchanging the customary greeting of dos besos with the men in my host family). While many Catholic masses in America can seem overwrought and dull, this one was simple and full of life. Three guitarists worshipped in whining, soprano voices "Maria" and "Vamos con nosotros," and everyone clapped along as if to say: How grateful and lucky we are to sing and be together. After taking communion, all of the children came together (with me included) and held hands and danced around the center, circling in and out, jovial in the embrace of each other and God. It felt much like a party (and at that, one of the most fun parties I've ever attended). And most moving, when people were asked to stand and speak of God's faithfulness, my host grandfather, Andres, trembling yet with strong voice said: I am scared and sick as you all know. I am close to death, but God has been faithful. God has given me reason to continuously trust in him. He made me want to cry--to worry--and yet made me so grateful as I have so often felt for what I have been given here. What a miracle it is to have this family. To have these children who teach me their games and take me by the hand and lovingly guide me. Children who do not shy away even though I am different and slow to understand. But rather, who tell me, as Sarah did, "I got this flower for you from the church. I'm going to put it in your room because you only have faux flowers, and now, here is a real one." I'm amazingly blessed to be here, and I need to constantly and consciously remember that.

Other cool things (as well as a jarring change of tone):

This week, many things have happened. First of all, JYS has been very, very good to me in that 1) they have allowed me to take an English class and that 2) they have given me an amazing mentor to guide my work for the Brady program. First, the English class: it's a North American literature class taught in English but with all Spanish students (besides me and my Belguim friend, Sofie). At first, it seemed as if I wouldn't be able to take it because I signed a Spanish-only contract. However, after explaining why I wanted to take it, my wonderful program director gave me the go-ahead. I'm really pumped to study North American literature from a non-US perspective. I've never been given this sort of opportunity (learning about American lit from outside America!?), and I'm really looking forward to engaging with the class in a mutual relationship of learning (my teacher even said that she was excited to learn from me). Secondly, I was gifted a wonderful mentor, Maria de la torre, (one of the best and most caring people I know). She and I spoke last week, and now, I'm currently going to try to volunteer at an ONG that works with exactly the group of people that my fellow Bradys and I are hoping to help (young adults with disabilities between the ages of 18-22 who are trying to gain independence). Working with this organization, Asociacion Tandem, should be a wonderful way to see how the Spanish are tackling this issue. I'm very excited to learn both from this class and from this organization. Updates to come on my progress... CJB


all these things that i've done (have yet to do/am doing)

I went to the public library this week to obtain a library card (re: key to the magical world of literature). While I was there, Maria (one of three library ladies--they're kind of a clique) suggestively mentioned that she's looking for a girlfriend for her son. She then commenced to wildly gesticulate about his height and how he also ~might~ be a basketball player (meaningfully recurring theme, perhaps?). I say might because I'm not sure if the dunking motions they were making (Amparo--library lady 2--actually jumped up and down) meant he's tall in that classic Will-Neighbour-way or rather, that he's actually an athlete. The Spanish are a very emphatic group of people (much like my Italian family; those who know me, know I like to point). So anyway, after they tried to bait me into offering up my dowry (jk but pretty sure this might have been the next step), I was free to peruse the shelves of the beautifully well-lit and open space that is Biblioteca Pública Infanta Elena. This is the kind of space I dream of--warm light, clean, white surfaces, soft, comfortable chairs, free wifi, books on books on books. Long story short(ened), I am currently attempting to read two books. Del amor y otros demonios by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Out of The Silent Planet by my boy CS Lewis (thank you Clark for the physical copy of this book, thank you Charlie for deferring your own readerly enjoyment for my own, and thank you Emily for savoring each and every word such that I felt the need to do so myself). Del amor is in Spanish so I'm going to try to challenge myself to read a bit of it everyday (work on mi español); The Silent Planet, however, will be an (easy, English) indulgence. 

On small worlds. We had the welcome ceremony for international students at the Universidad de Sevilla today, and afterwards, they had a meet-and-greet with coffee, cookies (buttery dreams of childhood Christmases) and sandwiches (meh). There, I saw a boy who had a Twin Lakes (town 15 min from my own) shirt on. I was like, "WOAH HEY WISCO." So, of course, I went over and introduced myself. Turns out he has a house in Twin Lakes and is a member of the Aquanuts (yah i know) team which I saw when I was 10ish (for pics pls see: He goes to the University of Denver but is from Lake Forest (a few towns north of NU--v cool). AND THEN I basically (I am exaggerating) turned around and met a kid from north of Milwaukee who goes to Whitewater. So, it's good to know that WI is well represented here in Sevilla.

On lessons learned. I've been getting very tenderly and lovingly educated about pop culture (and other things--feminism, gender constructs, friendship, how to dance well/appear local, etc) by a few fabulous kids (Suz, Sam, Eden, Camille and Kyle--looking at you). I am very grateful for them as friends and compatriots. Truly, all of the people I've met in this program have been great--very open, very considerate, very FUNNY (Suzy knows how to write in the best and most perfectly hilarious manner:

Serious learning has also been taking place (about the world and in myself). We've been talking a lot this week about Franco and his dictatorship. It was frankly (bad time for a bad joke) horrible--so many people dead or missing, women forced into submission, everyone suppressed and living in fear. Yet, surprisingly, Andres and Carmen (generous, warm individuals that they are) were Nationalists themselves (at least, Camille and I suspect that they were because when we asked them about how their lives were affected by the dictatorship, they said that it didn't really affect them at all). Andres was a veterinarian for the government so his job was pretty secure. He even mentioned that he thinks Franco did some good things, such as preventing WWII and Communism from consuming Spain. However, while they say everything was rosy, you can also see how that time has affected them. They don't waste food, and they dole out huge portions to their children and guests; it's obvious with what gratitude and trepidation they view their situation. It's Sacha's (a host grandson) birthday next week, and Carmen and her daughter made a cake out of butter, melted chocolate and graham cracker-like cookies for him. This "tart" is so simply and sparingly done (especially in a place with such decadent pastries) that it must be a remnant of a time when they didn't have much (think Depression era in the US). It's very interesting to see this constant dialogue between opposites in Spain; it's a country that exists quite clearly in the grey (between doublings and couplings, parallels and perpendiculars, overlaps of dark and light). One of my professors was telling us about how her uncle was tortured during Franco's dictatorship while on the other side, her father-in-law was a coronel for the Nationalists himself. Another friend, Dajana, told me that her Argentinian host grandmother came to Spain during this time believing firmly in women's independence; yet, her own daughter (due to the indoctrination in their school systems) believes that her role in life is to shiver into action at the very beck and call of her husband. 

As far as learning about myself, I tend to be somewhat critical of myself as well as others, and God has been constantly showing me recently how to deal with that. In conversations with my family (thank you, Mom and Dad, for your constant support and outpouring of love and advice) and conversations with myself (weird? I think not), He keeps me very conscious and conscientious. It's been quite cool, actually, realizing that when I'm interacting with other people and get critical/annoyed, it's because I'm realizing something in myself, too (I'm a firm believer in that which you criticize in others, you most strongly see in yourself). So Spain has been (and keeps being) a good space to interact with others, a better space to understand myself and a great space to know God.

Gratitude. The other day, I was feeling kind of lackluster and down, and then God presented me with several wonderful moments of companionship which rolled into a line like a delicious trio of m&ms. At dinner last night, we ate with six of Carmen and Andres' grandchildren (one of their daughters has eight children), listened as they told us the words they knew in English, spoke easily with them in Spanish and thoroughly enjoyed a few episodes of Bob Esponja together. It felt wonderful be a part of a family for an hour or so (especially because I dearly miss my own). After dinner, Carmen and Andres went to have tapas with Andres Jr. We both left around the same time (they a little sooner than I) so we managed to walk with each other for a few blocks. It was nice to meet Andres Jr's girlfriend and to share in a little moment of their joy at being together (really, their joy at being alive. Spanish people know how to live. It was around 10:30pm when Carmen and Andres hit the town, and they're in their 70s). After I left them, I met Dajana to go to an intercambio (a bilingual meet-and-greet). While there, I had a wonderful exchange with a few, older native Sevillanos who were practicing their English in order to find jobs. Because of the economy being the way that it is, they've been unemployed for a while and NEED to know English in order to get good jobs. I think that it's quite brave of them to really work at learning English, especially as people who in the US would already be quite established in their careers. It was good (and a little discomfiting) to realize that these people were learning my language in order to survive in the world (and hopefully make their way to an English speaking country) while I'm studying their language simply because it interests me and my parents have been generous enough to send me to Spain (thank you again and again, Mom and Dad). Another thing to be grateful for and to keep in mind.

On projects and other exciting things. I am writing. Something is growing in my imagination if but slowly (and who knows if anyone should get to enjoy it but me. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, part of your becoming is not sharing that which you've made she quotes in her public blog). But anyway, it's exciting and a blessing to be inspired, and I'm grateful for it. There are definitely many little knotted balls of stories lying around this city (behind 500 year old walls, encased in the skin of Sevilian oranges, nestled away in every Sevillano's heart) just waiting for me to unravel them and tie them to the Giraldillo to air out.

Last but (yes) least. Almost got assassinated by my hair dryer. Well, not my hair dryer, and I suppose that was the problem (fire was not meant to be contained). I had this weird premonition before it exploded in my hands that it was going to blow up so I kept my face away, and luckily, the hot, molten coils that burst forth from it (much like something from the underworld) only ended up sweltering on the floor for a few seconds. So...back to (h)air drying for now. CJB




A girl. Her journey. The written account.

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things..."

If you're reading this, you probably know me so I'll skim the shallows (intros, etc) and dive right into the depths. This blog will be a glimpse into my life (re: 3.5 month interval) in Spain. The majority of my time there will be spent speaking and thinking and writing in Spanish (I've even signed a contract to make sure that this is the case). This blog, however, will be an indulgence--a little allowance of my native tongue in order to keep my English writing sharp and my connection with my family and friends tight. I'll definitely still use Facebook, but I doubt anyone wants my page long ramblings posted directly on their newsfeed along with the slew of IceBucket Challenge videos (or perhaps that would be a welcome reprieve). Anyway, this blog may take many forms: it may simply be a daily recitation of the events that occurred in my life, or it may become a photographic diary of the people and places I encounter. Perhaps, it'll be a study on culture and humanity and faith. It might very well encapsulate none or all of these. All that I can promise in these posts is something fairly interesting, truly heartfelt, and perhaps, something that can connect us across barriers of distance and language. Think of this blog as my hand in yours, giving it a vigorous and friendly shake. CJB