Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Un muerto en España está más vivo como muerto que en ningún sitio del mundo

"A dead man in Spain is more alive than a dead man anywhere in the world."  Frederico Garcia Lorca certainly had a penchant for beautifying Spain and its culture, however these past two weekends it seemed his words never seemed truer.  Interpret the quote as you will- I certainly have little authority to discredit literary analysis- however I believe he is stating the importance of Spanish history and the continual effect it leaves with the modern culture and social mores.

View of Segovia from the Alcazar

For example, during the Spanish Inquisition, Muslims and Jews were forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity.  For those converted from Islam, called the Moriscos, a common test to prove that they had accepted Christianity was to eat pork publicly.  Now, hundreds of years later, every tapas bar serves some sort of ham almost without exception on every dish.  Certainly, the antiquated tradition of declaring one's devotion to the Church has long since been lost, but the repercussions throughout the centuries has a definitive, if subtle, effect.
View from bridge in Toledo (anyone else notice that I like this type of shot?)

Two weekends ago, the Bucknell en España program had the unique pleasure to visit four historical cities in four days.  Starting in Segovia, we briefly explored Ávila before stopping in Madrid for two nights.  We ended our tour in Toledo, the city of three cultures.

Palacio Real

As much as I would love to relate every detail of every city, it hardly would be engaging or insightful to do so.  I will, however, attempt to paint a picture of the rich histories of these places and how I perceived the effects on the modern culture.  Beginning at Segovia, the rich history of Roman influence and Gothic-styled architecture is incredible.  The Roman aqueduct is from the first or second century and is truly a marvel of engineering as well as a work of art.  Without the use of mortar, it is a wonder how the constructors managed to build this monument.  In Ávila the muralla encircling the town maintained a certain seclusion from not only unwanted forces, but also from adulteration of town customs and traditional architecture.  Moving to Madrid, we of course experience a vast contrast from lazy country life to city hustle.  I truly can't describe the impression the Palacio Real leaves, but I trust pictures from a simple Google search can help convey the splendor and glamor prevalent within.  The palace is lined with art from the Orient, paintings of the New World, and sculptures of Africa.  The pages of Spain's history are drawn on the ceilings of the Palacio, something which provides a strong feeling of pride and humility.  Of course, to speak of Castilla without mention of Toledo would be to err terribly.  In Toledo we find a utopian view of the past.  Much like the Generation of 98 looked to the medieval valors for inspiration, we too must view the history of Toledo to appreciate "convivencia."  This is the idea of many cultures living together; in particular the Muslims, Jews, and Christians all lived and shared ideas for hundreds of years, resulting in Jewish temples with Arabic writing as decorations or Muslim mosques with Christian paintings.  
Cathedral of Segovia

Just as interesting, however, were the interactions between us and the locals.  For example, every city-dweller was more than willing to help us and preach the brilliance of their cathedral or their tapas.  The pride that exists between a resident and his region is impressive, and something which Antonio Machado preaches quite well in his poem "Orillas del Duero."  

¡Castilla varonil, adusta tierra,
Castilla del desdén contra la suerte,
Castilla del dolor y de la guerra,
tierra inmortal, Castilla de la muerte!

He speaks of the resistance and determination of the "castillanos " who give life and pride to the otherwise arid and melancholy Castilla with a warlike and painful past.

Muralla de Ávila 

Clearly we can learn much from our own histories and from the histories of our state.  Lorca said that the dead men in Spain continue speaking to us, giving us lessons and pride.  Through the gusto of the people and the preservation of traditional constructs that exist today, it is not a grand stretch of the imagination to believe it.

I would like to end with some pictures from this past weekend and the BeE trip to Nerja and Ronda.  Although I will not write a proper entry about these beautiful places, I feel the pictures could do a much better job than me in capturing the ascetic.
Mediterranean Sea from Nerja
Mediterranean Sea from Nerja

Plaza de Toros in Ronda
Middle Earth in Ronda

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ponerse el individuo incómodo, eso es mi tarea

Nietzsche said: "To make the individual uncomfortable, that is my task."  Apparently, he was the first proprietor of studying abroad.  There exists a unique conflict while living on foreign soil in that the ultimate goal (to some) is to successfully digest and adopt cultural norms from an alien country to render themselves invisible to the local eye.  Such a lofty dream is impossible, but some consolations can be achieved.  It is possible to learn the language and the social mores, however the most perfect imitation of a foreign culture will unfortunately always be just that: a mechanical rendition portrayed but never quite completely internalized.  To be injected into a foreign culture is to be exposed to new food, language, and custom, however it is also an opportunity to lose oneself.  The richness of an inter-cultural experience lies in this unique opportunity to stray from one's mold and effectively overcome the dogma which plagues so many of us.

Torre de la Vela

This proposed goal brings us back to the opening quote.  After several weeks of stumbling blindly across Granada, it is slowly becoming clear to me that the most memorable and worthwhile experiences are those which make my skin crawl or my heart race.  There is a very obvious attraction for us terrified Americans to the Burger King near the office or the Dunkin' Donuts a block away.  However, while it may be convenient and familiar to order a Whopper, it should remain obvious that wandering another block to a local diner would be much more interesting.  Perhaps having a complete fish on my plate is a particularly daunting prospect, but no one can argue the value of this momentary feeling of self-doubt.  I may not learn to fillet a fish, so I may leave with an empty stomach, however I will feel more satisfied than I could by eating a greasy hamburger.

I would like to relate an anecdote which is as follows: A small group of Bucknell students went to a bar and sat down to socialize.  Only one person ordered a drink and the rest of us remained talking.  After a few minutes, the bartender approached and reprimanded us for our actions, declaring them rude and typical of spoiled American students.  He told us that not ordering a drink was a way of insulting the establishment.  Although the message was meant to inform rather than castigate, the biting sting certainly dampened the mood immediately.  Rather than leave the establishment, we decided to order Cokes and remain seated.  The bartender, an Irish man with no reservations, was quick to explain his motives and even offered us the drinks on the house.  He meant to teach and prepare us for future outings, rather than milk us for a few Euro.  Those few moments of uncomfortable silence and uncertainly were clearly essential to our education.  Although we could have left the bar unscathed, we decided to sit and get our ears chewed a bit.  In the end, we retained the dignity to be able to return to the bar whereas otherwise, we would have had one less establishment to frequent.

The true irony in the story is that a Spaniard commented on the events stating that is in fact not rude to sit at a bar and not order a drink.  It is certainly culturally maladjusted, but locals will simply recognize the "guiri" flavor and dismiss it all together.  Apparently, even a man who has worked here for months and years can still misinterpret the cultural norms, another testament to the complexity of society.


I have to apologize for the long break in blog entries, as well as the sudden return with such strange style.  I decided to stray (just this once) from the typical and attempt a more profound writing.  I promise to return with more structured accounts of personal experience and observation.  Although this entry is a bit more philosophical and based on mere musings of a culturally confused college kid, I believe my sentiments can all be summarized quite well by Peter McWilliams who suggests to "be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable.  It may get tough, but it's a small price to pay for living a dream."


Sunday, September 12, 2010

¡Vamos a la playa!

¡Hola a todos!

This weekend, a small group of Bucknellians shed themselves of academia and relaxed at a local beach called Salobreña.  The trip back and forth apparently lasts one hour, however, as photo evidence below reveals, I was less than attentive for the beautiful Spanish landscape.

Credits to Holly for snapping this spy-like photo.

The beach was not fine sand, to which many (including myself) are accustomed, but rather semi-fine pebbles upon which walking shoe-less I can only liken to the feeling of bare feet upon broken glass.  Luckily, with the sun bearing upon the shoreline all day, these pebbles became fiery embers.  All together a win-win, in my opinion.

Ball on sand. Artsy! Maybe?

OK, all less-than-subtle sarcasm aside, the beach was a brilliant scene:  gentle waves of cool water, rolling hills lined with clusters of white houses, and people from around the world sharing a perfect day together in southern Spain.  I came prepared for the day bearing gym shorts, a towel, and a box of cereal I bought at the super market.  (As a random side-note, it's funny the types of things you find you miss when so removed from your native environment.  Since breakfasts are so small in Spain, I had craved cereal since we arrived.  I finally caved into temptation.  Let's just say the box was finished before I laid my towel on the beach.)

So, although I came less than prepared for the beach, I was more than ready for the excitement of the day.  (Who needs sunglasses, sunblock, or a bathing suit, anyway?)  After brief spouts of swimming/realizing how out of shape I am, and kicking around a football, a small group decided to explore a bit more of the town. We trekked upwards to find an Arab castle, but were careful to take advantage of the many photogenic spots along the way.

It's really quite interesting how much is discernible by observation.  For example, it was immediately obvious that the castle was built by Moors by the several high, horseshoe shaped arches.  Considering that Andalucia was the last strong Arab stronghold during the Reconquista, it seemed only too reasonable that this must have been, in fact, some sort of Arab architecture.  Some quick research revealed that it was actually used as a prison and defensive stronghold for many years.  But, like many Moorish works, we also saw a cross and a Virgin Mary statue resting on one side of the edifice.  This belied the Christian takeover ordered by the Reyes Catolicos: Isabelle and Ferdinand.  Many mosques and other Arab palaces were converted into churches, or the like, during the reconquest of Spain.  This seemed to be no exception.  Although our timing was dreadful (the castle was closed to visitors), our journey to the top of the town was more than successful.

Arab Castle

All in all, the vacation (within a vacation?) was a wonderful adventure and experience.  I was even mistaken for a Spaniard twice!  Albeit, one person was from Holland.  Regardless, it is truly amazing what a slight tan and a minimal vocabulary can do!  Although not all "viajes" we take will involve swimming in the Mediterranean, I am quite enthralled by the thought of more travel and exposure to different cultures and people.

Thanks for reading!


Left to Right: Emily, Lyndsay, Holly, Lauren, Jen
Not pictured: Wes, April, Hallie, Sarah... :(

Monday, September 6, 2010

El atardecer mas bello del mundo

The title of this entry translates to "the most beautiful sunset in the world."  In fact, Bill Clinton apparently stated that Granada boasts this very claim.  I'm hoping to litter this entry with photos so that the audience can determine for themselves what they think of this assertion; as well as their general sentiments of the city of Granada.  (You can click on the pictures for a bigger version of each one.  Keep in mind my camera is a bit old-school compared to the crazy things out there, but it gets the job done for me!)

I took an obnoxious number of pictures of this sunset.  I think I've settled on this one.

It is a beautiful city with beautiful people; something which is actually quite worthy of noting for us American students.  Everybody here looks great all of the time; i.e. no one goes to class in sweatpants or gym shorts with a sleeveless shirt.  The nightlife fashion is even better, since it no longer feels like walking through an oven.  (It also quite effectively weeds out the foreigners from the locals.)  The stores are lined with modern clothing with very modern price tags (I found a polo shirt for 109 euros... you do the conversion).  The culture here, however, pretty much dictates that you look good, because if dressing up is the first hobby of "granadinos," the close second is socializing and gossiping.

A fountain literally seconds before it shut off for the night!

Wherever I go, it almost always seems as though people are walking with at least one other person... or eating dinner with a group... or having tapas with a partner.  Once outside, you are essentially portraying yourself to the public, so if one person sees you take your trash out in sweats and a hoodie... then the whole city will know in a matter of hours.  It all seems a bit dramatic, but I'm quite the fan of the social aspect here; it's easy to meet people and many are very accepting of us "guiri" so long as we teach them a word or two in English!

Some streetlights along a pathway.

In all, to describe the city of Granada as beautiful is to say that the buildings are amazing, the people are attractive, and the culture is rich... not to mention the food.  It is captured quite well by this quote by (my favorite) Lorca:

"It is ... a city where the one in love writes better than anywhere the name of his love upon the ground."

Edge of a park.

Friday, September 3, 2010

¡Vámonos al Club!

Hola a todos!

It's been less than a week and already I am feeling the pull of the Andalucian culture here in Granada.  I'm becoming accustomed to eating lunch around 2:30 and dinner anywhere from 8:00 to 10:00, and even that could be considered early to some locals!  With the incessant heat here, however, it's clearly the only reasonable time to go out to a tapas bar or a restaurant.  The nightlife here in Granada is currently saturated with Americans and other foreigners, with nary a Spaniard to be seen!  It turns out that the University of Granada doesn't start official classes until October, so it's just us "guiris" clubbing by ourselves until then.

Bucknell en Espana brings the party to "Granada 10"
 Otherwise, intensive classes have begun which consist of 4 hours of consecutive lecture for 4 weeks.  It's pretty daunting coursework but altogether quite nice to have a consistent schedule once again.  We also all have a class with Prof. Acuna who is the Bucknell professor who is here with us which only meets twice a week.

The best roommate pair in Granada!

On the more cultural side, I'll quickly add that we visited the Generalife and saw a flamenco show based on the Lorca poem "Poema del cante jondo."  It was incredible.  It's hard to express with words what the music is like live, but I highly recommend watching this short clip of two legends of flamenco:  Cameron de la Isla and Paco de Lucia. You'll notice the distinct Arab flavor, which is incredibly common in so many aspects of daily life here in Granada.

Well, now is the siesta, so I'm going to take a nap (which is something that apparently only foreigners do) and get ready for a tour of the Albaicin neighborhood this evening.

Hasta pronto,


I took a picture of a shadow for my sister.  It's artsy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bienvenidos a Granada

Hola a todos!

On the advice of several people, I'm going to attempt to maintain this informal blog throughout the semester to keep people updated and hopefully stay connected with various people back in the US.
The airport in Madrid!

The Bucknell en Espana program has 21 students this semester, which is apparently the largest fall group to date!  Almost all of us met in Newark airport and flew 7 hours to arrive in Madrid this past Sunday.  We took a bus which drove us to Granada.  It was, in my opinion, one of the longest bus rides ever.  It only was 5 hours, but the heat was nearly unbearable, and the bus broke down an hour outside of Granada.  Luckily, the back of the bus had the distinct and unique pleasure of Max and Mike to serenade us with sweet guitar playing and singing.

The only thing which kept me sane on the bus... Ke$ha and Gaga.

Since then, it's been great in the city; the buildings are beautiful and my host Senora is a sweet little lady who Wes (my amazing roommate), and I concur, believe can only be described as "a hoot."  She cooks us way too much food and loves to talk about how hot the weather is, as well as how amazing the soccer is here.  I found out last night that she is related to Federico Garcia Lorca, which blew. my. mind!  Our apartment is less than a year old, and quite nice, all together.  Most importantly, it has Wi-Fi!  I feel bad because Wes and I have huge bedrooms (separate, and each with two beds... about the size of a Bucknell single), and our Senora has a tiny bedroom and bathroom which she keeps to herself... major guilt trip!!

Well, I don't want to make these things too long, or else I'll have an ambitious precedent to follow, so I'll just close by saying that the people I've met here, students and locals, are all fantastic!  I can't wait to get closer with everyone in the program!  I miss everyone back home; hope life is good in the states!

Hasta pronto,


Granada, Espana