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