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Archive for September, 2009

After approximately a month in Barça, I have now started classes…er “shopping period” (¿¿periodo de compras??).  Unlike for most students, Spanish or otherwise, my program allows us to cross-enroll in multiple Spanish universities, and with the goal of fulfilling some concentration credits, I have wound up taking courses on three different campuses (including the one we take through the program itself).  During this process I’ve realized how spoiled I am at school back home being able to hop out of bed and walk five minutes to any given class.  Here, I will have to hop on the metro two days a week and ride a half hour outside of the city for one of my classes.

Yesterday was one such day, and it did not pan out the way I’d hoped.  At all.  For starters, I was already in somewhat of a touchy mood because I had been fasting for Yom Kippur and despite trying to preserve the spirit of the holiday, sometimes hunger gets the better of, well, my spirit.  Upon arriving to the suburban campus 2 hours early (I figured I’d need at least that much time to factor in getting lost), I attempted (for the second time) to get my student ID card.  Fail.  Long lines.  Inefficiency.  With no central registrar or scheduling office, I had to run around the labyrinthine campus to look up the classroom of my class for the day. Not seeing it listed anywhere on the bulletin board of department stop #1 (sociology), I went to department #2 (communications) and still had no luck.  With 15 minutes to go before showtime, I luckily had a “lightbulb moment” (which were hard to come by yesterday working on an empty stomach) and went to the library and onto the computer to go on the internet to check my email to see if I’d received any scheduling info from the program directors.  Which, mercifully, I had.  The classroom was listed (though the listing was nowhere to be found on the bulletins) and I made my way to the class with a few minutes to spare.  But. The. Class. Was. In. Catalan.  I have only taken 6 “intensive” 2.5 hour classes worth of Catalan.  I. Cannot. Understand. Catalan.  This evidently would not work.  Thankfully the class ended after a half hour, not the original intended 2 hours.

But with a yummy breakfast in my belly (courtesy of two wonderful Jewish-mamas-in-training on my program), today was much better.  I got the damn ID card (third times the charm, right?) and made it on time to a new class, which was in SPANISH! (Did I ever expect to be excited to hear a class is in 100% Spanish?)  Spirits were sufficiently buoyed.

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Yom Kippur in Barcelona

Tonight is the start of Yom Kippur, or Kol Nidre, and I just came back from 2 hours of services in one of the four synagogues in Barcelona.  As you know, Spain doesn’t have such a good track record with its Jews and there are roughly 1,000 Jewish families in Barcelona today (pop. 1.5 million in the city alone, 4 million in the metro area), meaning there are between 4-5,000 Jews in total.  There are now only four synagogues, one of which is the oldest synagogue in Europe.  After two friends in my program did some research, a group of us Jews decided to attend services in one of these synagogues.

Given the prevalence of anti-Semitism around the world, it is not unusual for temples to take extra precaution during the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), and the one we visited in Barcelona, Cominidad Israelita de Barcelona , was no exception.  We had to arrange with the temple director beforehand and provide her with photocopies of our passports and once we arrived I noticed the presence of several men in dark attire stationed throughout the block with ear pieces–this was the temple’s security detail.  After asking our group representative, Jeremy, some information about why we were in Barcelona, and what temple he belonged to, we made it inside.  Given the guy in the dark suits at the door checking our IDs, it felt like we were trying to get into a club.  A Jewish, Yom Kippur club.

The service was a real cultural experience in that it was very different from what I’m used to.  The Sephardic service was in the main sanctuary, which had two separate floors, one for men on the ground level, and then another above for women that overlooked the action.  We went to the Ashkenazi service, which was in a smaller, adjunct room.  The sexes were separated but this time they were just on different sides of the room, sans wall or any other physical barrier.  The services started late (just like in the States!) and the cantor started chanting in Hebrew.  I was excited because of course the prayerbook was in Hebrew and Spanish, and so I thought it would be cool when it came time for the call and response to say some of the prayers in Spanish rather than in English.  Except this temple was more conservative than I thought because the congregants never participated.  Not once.  Except maybe to say the watchword, the “shma.”  And it wasn’t ever in Spanish.  The entire two hours were filled with the cantor chanting prayers in Hebrew with his back to the congregation.  I know Yom Kippur, and particularly Kol Nidre, services are more somber than normal, but this took it to a whole new level for me at least.  Even the other girls I went with who go to conservative synagogues commented on this.  And the congregation seemed only marginally involved with what was going on, as people would come in and out of the room and there would be air kisses and greetings every few minutes (and I’m guessing most of the congregation was not fluent in Hebrew).

It also made me curious about the congregants and their family histories.  They all appeared pretty typically ‘spanish’ (as opposed to descendants of recent immigrants from elsewhere in Europe, as was my original theory), so I wonder if their families went underground during the Inquisition and have no revived their Judaism…who knows.  I hope to find the answer to this before I leave.

All in all an interesting experience, but it made me appreciate my temple back in Chicago and even the Brown Hillel.  A few of the more observant girls are going back tomorrow so I’ll be curious as to whether they notice any difference since it will not be a Kol Nidre service.

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Los Pireneos

This past weekend the entire CASB (or consooorrrtium) group took a trip to the Pyrenees to see…Romanesque churches!!!  In all seriousness, the scenery was breath-taking and some of what we learned about the romanesque (or románico in español) art and architecture was interesting (particularly the bit about the religious iconography used to signify which apostles were which since most people were illiterate).  We arrived in the Valle de Boi on Friday evening, and our drive there was one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen.  It had been raining and so the entire mountain range was covered in a dark, haunting fog (ok, I gotta make a Harry Potter reference so you can understand the visuals…) that shimmered over the lakes in the valleys.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this because it was too dark and misty for them to turn out.


We spent the next day touring the Romanesque churches, which are tiny stone churches (unlike the big Gothic cathedrals) dating back to the 11-13th centuries.  The first church we visited, I believe it was called San Climente de Taüll, was very pretty with a tall bell tower.

The belltower of San Climente de Taüll

The belltower of San Climente de Taüll

Insided we saw the Romanesque artwork (most of which were reproductions as the originals have miraculously been transported to the Museo Nacional de Cataluña or MNAC).

Jesus with an alpha and omega in the background meant to signify his power "from beginning to end"

Jesus with an alpha and omega in the background meant to signify his power "from beginning to end"

I got to go up the belltower and guess what I saw?

A shepherd herding his flock down the street!

A shepherd herding his flock down the street!

(I’ll try to post the video I took so you can hear their bells ringing but I’m technologically illiterate, practically).


Here are some more photos of the region:

Who knew parts of Spain could conjure up images of Heidi in the Swiss Alps?

Who knew parts of Spain could conjure up images of Heidi in the Swiss Alps?

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A courtyard in one of the cathedrals

A courtyard in the one cathedral we visited


After several Romanesque churches, it was time for lunch.  Our program director, Juanjo, graciously gave us 5 hours of free time in “the largest town in the area with nightlife.”  It was an epic fail, but well-intentioned.  Here’s why: A) The sleepy town had very few stores or restaurants opened when we arrived at 2 pm because it was siesta time     B) My friends and I unwittingly went into a pizzeria that was not serving pizza and had an awful lunch  C) There was no semblance of nightlife and why would we want to take advantage of said-nightlife at 3 in the afternoon?  D) There was a small protest against a broken promise that the government had made to provide this town with a better highway, so our departure was delayed


So…a few friends and I basically played cards all afternoon and walked around the grocery store.

***

The next day we visited a castle on our way home, but the only disappointing thing was that you couldn’t see too much of the grounds because they’d been turned into a hotel.

The Castle in Cardona

The Castle in Cardona

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The Catalan flag is in the background

The Catalan flag is in the background

Verdict on the Pyrenees:  breathtaking scenery, pretty churches, don’t go for the nightlife (as we evidently learned while leaving our hotel the last morning…)

This weekend is the Mercé, one of the biggest festivals of the year in Barcelona, which means a 4-day weekend filled with fire, human towers, gigantic paper-machine creatures, and fire works!!

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The power and internet in our ENTIRE residencia went out tonight for a few hours.

Now it’s back on.

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So I needed, just needed, to dedicate a post to our awesomely strange “aparthotel” San Eloy in Tossa de Mar.  Unfortunately they do not have a website, but hopefully my photos will more adequately do it justice anyway.  Its imposing fortress-like façade was exquisitely incongruous with its Poconos/Catskills meets trashy European budget hostel feel.  I should give it some credit:  it was clean (enough); it was safe; it had a certain je ne ce quois (this is why I take Spanish…I never know how to spell in French…Aunt Betsy– feel free to provide corrections!)  Some photos:


"The Fortress"...looks kinda nice, eh?

"The Fortress"...looks kinda nice, eh?

The hotel was sort of in a “C” shape, and it opened out onto a large communal space that had 2 swimming pools, a tennis court, a “mini golf” course, a large-scale chess board and other various amenities.  But the property was still rather small, so all of these offerings were squished together.  Here are some more photos:

The "mini golf" course

The "mini golf" course


Chess!

Chess!


Sandbox?!

Sandbox?!

But the pièce de résistance or “el pedazo de la resistencia” was the production of Grease put on by the kiddies around the corner from the pool.


Grease!

Grease!



But the best/most unsettling part about it was…



...these were the staff members in charge of it!

...these were the staff members in charge of it!

There you have it.  But by far the strangest thing of all is that for any group of students on a budget like us, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the place.

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This past weekend, I went with 16 (!) other kids in my program up to the Costa Brava, just north of Barcelona, to a town called Tossa de Mar.  It was our first long weekend as that Friday was the Dia de la Constitución, a regional holiday for Catalunya commemorating, actually, the loss of Catalunya’s regional independence to Spain.  So back home we celebrate gaining our independence and Catalans celebrate losing it…huh.  But it meant that we didn’t have classes this Friday (*note: none of the Spanish universities have started classes yet (!), instead we are finishing  three-week long, intensive orientation classes…)

We spent the three days on a “vacation from our vacation,” lounging on the beach, scarfing lots of tapas, and drinking pitchers of sangria in many iterations (red wine sangria, white wine sangria, sangria de cava…).  Here are some shots of Tossa (unfortunately my camera ran out of battery so all photos are credited to my friend, Kinneri):

 

This is where we were!

This is where we were!

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By far one of the best discoveries was this tiny restaurant up in the old medieval section of the town called La Lluna.  This charming tapas joint churned out one mouth-watering dish after the other.  The first night I went with two hungry guys and the three of us collectively ordered the following: an order of patatas bravas (a Spanish specialty of fried potatoes with a spicy aioli sauce), Catalan sausage called butifarra, toasted bread with sopressata sausage and brie cheese, a sampling of Spanish cheeses (think nutty Manchego), meatballs, pan con tomate (sort of like bruschetta but the Spanish version rubs the olive oil and tomatoes over bread and then pitches the rest of the tomato, so all you have are its juice and seeds) and…the winning dish of chorizo in a sublime cider sauce.  You would’ve thought we were at least six people, not three…but hey, tapas are small plates, right?  

After sleeping late in our fortress-like/budget, European-style Poconos hotel (a separate post dedicated to our dear hotel, the San Eloy, to follow), we spent the next day at the beach after exploring some of the medieval fortress and old city (we just exchanged one fortress for the other).  


The Medieval tower atop the fortress.  *Note the presence of the Catalan, NOT the Spanish, flag!

The Medieval tower atop the fortress. *Note the presence of the Catalan, NOT the Spanish, flag!

 

 

That night, a slightly larger group returned to La Lluna for another banquet of a meal.  After checking out the town’s nightlife (namely the one busy nightclub), a group spontaneously went skinny dipping (you’ll have to guess whether your blogger partook or not).


On our final day, we awoke to overcast skies as we checked out of the San Eloy, which later worked to our advantage as we were able to secure spots on one of the smaller beaches that opened onto a pretty cove.

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Pretty soon the sun came out, and tanning commenced once more.  By far the biggest highlight of the weekend soon followed as some of us bravely went cliff-jumping at the recommendation of one of our fearless friends, Danny.  After testing the waters, so-to-speak, by jumping off a small cliff, we watched as Danny gamely took the plunge (wow, these puns are really easy–I think that’s two…have you been counting?) and jumped off a cliff that we later estimated was 25-30 ft. high.  After attesting that the waters were deep enough, nearly the entire group decided to try it for themselves, including yours truly, and it was exhilarating! It was such a strange feeling to have some sense of awareness while you’re falling down from such a height.  Though I did not enter the water gracefully, and I got a lot of saltwater up my nose and in my mouth, it was thoroughly worth it.  After that adventure, we treated ourselves to lunch and gelato before finally leaving Tossa and returning back to Barcelona, our new home.

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La Sagrada Familia

Last weekend I visited the famous Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudí’s most notable works, with my roommate, Tanja.  Without this turning into a history lesson, the Sagrada Familia is a massive church whose construction began in 1882 from private funding and continues to this day! That’s right.  It’s been 127 years and it’s still not finished!  Designed by Antoni Gaudí, he of “Modernista Architecture” fame, this colossal structure is bold, awe-inspiring, and confusing all at the same time.  It combines religious themes (it is a church after all) with references to nature, the human body, and even the instability and revolts of the 1920s (pre-Spanish Civil War).  Gaudí even threw himself in there, too.  And it happens to be walking-distance from my residencia.

But my words cannot do it justice, so instead here are some pictures:

 

This is what you see as you approach-note the presence of construction!

This is what you see as you approach-note the presence of construction!

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A cool shot of the towers and the back façade, which depicts Christ's crucifixion

 

A closer look at one of the images on the façade: the Romans about to crucify Christ with his Apostles in the background--the apostle on the far left has been given Gaudí's face

A closer look at one of the images on the façade: the Romans about to crucify Christ with his Apostles in the background--the Apostle on the far left has been given Gaudí's face

Sagrada 4

The inside of the church with its beautiful stained glass.  Unfortunately, the bulk of the inside is still under construction.

The inside of the church with its beautiful stained glass. Unfortunately, the bulk of the inside is still under construction.

 

The inside columns are meant to resemble trees topped with palm fronds

The inside columns are meant to resemble trees topped with palm fronds

 

This craziness is the back façade depicting Christ's birth--it's meant to contrast with the start and somber front façade

This craziness is the back façade depicting Christ's birth--it's meant to contrast with the start and somber front façade

 

A close up...Gaudí loved nature themes

A close up

 

This is, I believe, a sculpture in the inside depicting the biblical temptation of man but meant to resemble a 1920s Spanish anarchist holding a grenade

This is, I believe, a sculpture in the inside depicting the biblical temptation of man but meant to resemble a 1920s Spanish anarchist holding a grenade

 

The whimsical tops of the towers all made of mosaics

The whimsical tops of the towers all made of mosaics

So there you have it.  My roommate and I spent 2 hours wandering around the Sagrada and I still feel like there is so much more to see!

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