Do you want me to post the random things I have written during my time here? (most are simply my thoughts and reflections on Spain, life, love, and not so much the story of my time here)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ribadesella (Part 1) After much ado

I know, I know.... and I apologize to all it took so long. Part Two will be up tomorrow. I am going to try to put one up every day this week, Wednesday might not happen though since I am going to Bilbao. I also have a couple things I have written here that are less stories and more thoughts on my trip. If you guys want I can post those too, and since they are already written it would make sure that there would be posts more often. As always let me know what you think, I will be more apt to write more if I see people are reading it. I need to get some sleep. Much love.

Quick note... I have been trying to write this particular post for too long and now I need to push past it. Three weekends ago (including this one ) a few friends and I went to Ribadesella. Ribadesella is a small town in the region Asturias which is immediately west of Santander. Ribadesella is famous for the expansive cave system, Tito Bustillo, located there that houses some of the oldest cave drawings known to man-kind. Trevor had read about Ribadesella in a traveling guide and really wanted to see the caves. I was all for it: Tito Bustillo sounded interesting enough, the hostel and bus weren't too expensive, and Ribadesella is right on the ocean. It should have been a perfect weekend, it wasn't. The word Ribadesella has become kind of an inside joke to those of us who went there. I think that's why I have been stuck on this blog for so long. Inside jokes usually lose something in translation to the larger world, but (as promised) I plan on letting all of you in on all of my endeavors. So forgive me for a second as I lay this all out plainly for you, stripped of any flourish of pen or keyboard, and let you decide whether you find it funny or not. I promise I won't be offended if you don't. Phil, Elizabeth, Antonio, Katharine, Chelsea, Trevor, and I find it funny enough for everybody.

If I remember correctly, and it's probably safe to assume that I don't, it wasn't raining when we got on the bus to Ribadesella. On the other hand, when we got to Ribadesella, it was raining... hard. That was okay though, because we only a had a short walk to our awesome youth hostel on the beach. So we walked, in the rain, across the river to the beach only to discover that Ribadesella is the only place in the world with a brown ocean. Who knew? I can only explain this well to the people from or people who are familiar with Owosso. The entire ocean was the color of the Shiawassee River immediately following a torrential downpour. Disgusting... While walking along the beach (also kind of dirty) we managed to walk way past our hostel. Once we found a map, it was fairly evident that we had, and we turned around and arrived 20 minutes later soaking wet at our youth hostel.

I have heard several views on aging. There is a group of people that believe age is only a number and that youth is more a state of mind than a state of body. Whoever named our hostel a "youth" hostel, must have belonged to that group. The entire hostel was full of "youthful" 60, 70, and 80 somethings. My friends and I were easily the youngest seven people in the place. At first we thought it was funny. Then at night Trevor and I were trying to watch Robocop in Spanish when suddenly, a swarming mob of elderly Spaniards burst frantically through the lounge doors behind us. We tried to ignore the incomprehensible babble and screams. We tried to outlast them. It didn't work, the elderly partied too hard for the youthful. I ended up going to bed early and tried to sleep. This didn't work either. The distant thunder of los viejos playing cards floated up from the ground floor sending me tossing and turning on my mattress much as the tempestuous ocean did with the small fishing boats harbored in the bay. Throughout the night the wind and waves grew ever stronger, battering the hulls of the boats with driftwood and pieces of debris while the constant explosions of conversation battered my mental aptitude and my temper.

I didn't sleep,

and in the morning

I didn't eat.

The old people had finished all the breakfast.

Luckily there was more in Ribadesella than our hostel. In the morning we walked back across the river (which we would later realize seperated the enjoyable, interesting side and the insert synonym of boring here side of Ribadesella) and headed to the caves. It was still raining. If I forget to remind you at any point in this blog that it was raining you could be assured that it still was. It had reached the point where I was heartened by the rain, I hadn't been in a lot of caves but I did know they usually had a ceiling, and I commended our choice of activity for the weather. After a short jaunt in the rain we made it to Tito Bustillo.

It's hard for me to describe Tito Bustillo. Physically and geographically it is an amazing place to visit. Like I said, I had never been to a cave system before but I imagine most are awe inspiring, Tito Bustillo definitely was. As we walked deeper and deeper into the mountain we encountered cavern after cavern that my house easily could have fit in, stalagmites and stalactites and whatever they are called when they meet in the middle, and even an underground river.

****I wish I could post pictures of all of this but photography is not allowed in the caves. Google it. If you're lucky I will remember to find and post a link when I actually get internet access. ****

I would be amazed to find, on some random slate of Owosso sidewalk, a chalk drawing I had done in my youth over a decade ago. Admittedly the artwork itself would probably not have been that life changing, although my Grandma Wanda and Grandpa John do have a pretty impressive piece of finger-painting I did hanging in one of their guest bedrooms, but the sheer fact that it lasted the test of times would have been enough. Even more it would have given me a literal glimpse of the simpler times of my youth when Paul and I tore up the local streets. I cannot imagine what I would have drawn. I cannot imagine trying to figure out why I had drawn it. I hope it would have been something grand, evidence of a mind already capable of deeper thought and a heart already possessing greater love. I hope that in each graceful curving line you could have found an aching desire to understand the human condition and an even more powerful urge to express my own feeling of helplessness at being young in an apathetic world. I hope people would have been brought to their knees weeping as the waves of emotion and comprehension washed over them. I hope it would have been something more than words, more than me. It probably would have been a soccer ball and stick figures. It probably would have been insignificant, but it would have existed. After over a decade it would have existed.

In Tito Bustillo there are drawings created by the scraping of rocks on the cool, hard cave wall. Most of them are animals: mainly deer and horses and a couple of them are now abstract collections of symbols. The art itself was not that impressive, but it exists. After an unfathomable passage of time and against all odds these cave drawings have lasted. I know throughout our lifetimes we are all bound to the questions, "Why am I here?" and "What is the point?" These cave drawings, done by a "primitive" human countless lifetimes ago exist. Something that was originally done probably more out of a practical purpose of planning an attack than a pensive one is still serving to challenge and captivate minds today. This gives me hope and a sense of purpose. I have always been a firm believer in the idea of a legacy, that what we do here, the people we affect, the artifacts that we leave on this earth is what matters most. We only have one lifetime to build our legacy, but (as the cave drawings can attest to) that legacy can last forever. It's both a beautiful and a horrifying thought. It's beautiful because it gives us purpose and horrifying because it places an importance on every single action. Imagine people looking back on a single piece of your life tens of thousands of years from now: a letter, a picture, a song, a drawing... What would they think? What purpose would it serve? It makes me want to press every key with intent, strum every chord with care, and express only the most beautiful, the saddest, or the most powerful of emotions. I want to leave a legacy that matters.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Santander (and something creative) I am posting this outside

Should have been posted on Friday.

I have been in Santander for three-ish days. We came in on a bus from Madrid. I say we because, unbeknown to me, there were 11 students that all planned on being in Madrid at the same time. Regardless, it was fun. The bus ride took us through mountains and mountains and mountains, all of them magnificent. (See picture somewhere if I can figure out how to make it work)

*Disclaimer, the next paragraph is more pensive than it is comical or informational about my voyage*

feel free to skip to the next one if this doesn't sound particularly sabrosa

I thought I had never seen mountains, but I guess I had seen the Appalachians. Those are not the same. They don't give the same jaw-dropping sense of wonder as these mountains. These mountains have waterfalls at the bottom and snow at the top. I slept a total of ten minutes during that five and a half hour bus-ride. I wish I had not. Every minute a person can spend breathing in scenery that awe-inspiring is precious. It is precious because it is in those minutes that a reverence for the natural world, the world where we all live and all die, is formed. It is precious because it is in those minutes we understand that which we cannot possibly understand otherwise. We understand that we are both small and temporary. I am small. I am temporary. Small in an immense world, and temporary in a timeless one. I am small, but my connections to this world are both extraordinary and everlasting. I have left footprints on its beaches, taken fish from its rivers, worn its clothes, tasted its air, climbed its trees, picked its flowers. I am this world, as much as the mountains are. We are all this world, and I have also made connections with you. We have lived together, danced together, loved together, cried together, laughed together. Any impact we have on each other, we have on this world. That is timeless. It is because of this I can stare at the mountains and feel both small and powerful. We all leave an impact. We all change the world.

*The following paragraphs are void of any contemplation, but packed with tales of Espana, enjoy*

Funny story. I called my host family once from Michigan. It was a couple weeks ago now. I couldn't understand the woman who I talked to that well. After informing her who I was and why I was calling she told me I needed to talk to the padre de la casa (father of the house) and to call back later. That was okay with me, but I wanted to try to get to know the people I would be living with. So I talked to her about the World Cup... for a while. I called the family again in Madrid. When the woman picked up I thought I had called the wrong number. She didn't sound the same as the woman I had talked to from Michigan, and she didn't tell me to talk to the padre de la casa. In fact, she made plans to pick me up on Saturday for me to move in. I said I thought I had called the wrong number, and I had... from Michigan. Somehow in my nervous turmoil immediately preceding the first phone call I had dialed the wrong number. I call people eight hours a work as a job, ridiculous. Anyways I called the wrong number, the wrong Spanish woman had picked up, and I had talked to that wrong Spanish woman from the wrong phone number about the World Cup for ten minutes. That has to be one of the most confusing phone calls that Spanish madre will ever receive in her entire life.

1) Her phone rings

2) A foreign number with the wrong amount of numerals appears on the caller ID

3) She picks up the phone, somebody who barely speaks Spanish is suddenly talking to her

4) Person who barely speaks Spanish is announcing himself as the student who is going to be living in her house for the next two months

5) Confused, she suggests that foreign caller try back later to talk to her husband

6) Foreign caller who barely speaks Spanish refuses to give up and starts talking about the World Cup which doesn't start for weeks

7) Foreign caller finally hangs up, but never, ever calls back to speak to her husband who has no idea who the hell that was that called when she tells him the story.

Anyways, it was definitely the wrong number. I live with Conchita Hernandez. There is no padre de la casa. She is an older woman (I would guess in her 60's) who has three children who have all moved out. She had another study abroad student, Justin, who moved out in April. From what I gather Justin was a whole lot better at Spanish than I am. This seemed to disappoint her at first, now I think she sees it as a challenge. She is undoubtedly the hardest person to understand that I have encountered yet, but I already see improvements in my ability to do so. Mi madre espanola is a ridiculously amazing chef. La comida aqui es de puta madre. I eat an outrageous amount of the amazing food, an amount that I haven't been able to eat since I was a swimmer, but she is always saying that I "como poco" (eat little) and that "Justin comio mucho mas que tu" (ate a lot more than I do). I think Justin is a competitive eater. There is no other way a kid of his size (oh by the way there are several pictures of him in the room I sleep in) ate a lot more than I do now. It isn't possible.

Santander is beautiful. It's still in the mountains but is right on the ocean as well. The beaches are massive with light, fluffy sand. The girls are beautiful. Soccer is popular. People love to dance. It's a good place to be, but back to the first day. I arrived in Santander Friday night with a group of students all staying in a hostel. We decided to go to the playa (beach) and jump in the ocean, simple enough. The beach is on the opposite side of the city as the hostel but we decided to walk anyway. On the way, we asked a couple locals for directions to una playa. One of them pointed up a staircase to our right and said "peligroso." Trevor, who has become a kind of older brother/father/grandfather of the group, said, in his infinite wisdom, "Oh, there is a beach named peligroso." For those of you that don't know, peligroso means danger in Spanish. We all knew that. But, we followed Trevor's advice and followed the locals advice to the beach 'peligroso.' Bad idea, we started walking past a clear gang, into a really sketchy part of town, and ended up nowhere near a beach. We would later find out that the beach is actually named Peligros. The moral of the story, if somebody points a direction and says DANGER, don't go that way. Anyways, we made it to the beach. They are amazing, all of them. (There are six or seven different beaches in walking distance from my house.) I took off my shoes and my shirt and raced to the salty water sand kicking up behind me the whole time. I entered the cold, crisp, delicious ocean and knew that I belonged. I had made it to Santander.

The weekend was kind of a haze. I don't have a phone yet so I didn't hang out with any of the Americans. I played futbol en la playa with some natives, I was probably the second worst out of ten, and talked to some fishermen. Its intimidating. I understand Americans attempting to speak Spanish much better than I understand Spanish people speaking Spanish. Almost all of the people here have been nice though, they don't have a problem helping with directions, or taking a second to struggle through a conversation with me.

I speak Spanish all the time here. It isn't easy, for two reasons.

1) It just isn't easy, it's a completely different language

2) I am usually the funny, outgoing guy (or I try to be) in English. In Spanish it's a different story. Sarcasm doesn't translate really well. I make tons of people laugh when I am talking, but it is more because I mess up than me intentionally being funny. Women are scary enough to when you can communicate with them, it gets much worse when you can't.

Other than that, the trip has been wildly enjoyable and informative. I learn more in a day here than I do in weeks in Michigan. The classes are taught by brilliant professors, Esther y Manolo. I am saving stories of Manolo for another blog,

he calls me Five because

Michael -> Michael Jackson -> Jackson -> Jackson Five -> Five

but he teaches Spanish in a way that is actually approachable and comprehensible. It has already revolutionized how I approach the language. I will tell all of you about this later though, in another blog.

I leave for Ribadesella today. There are prehistorical cave drawings and a lot else to see and the World Cup starts today. BOOM! I will post a blog on Sunday or Monday, look forward to it. Follow me, you know you want to.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What Jet Lag?

Quick note this was written on Sunday. I haven't had internet since then, but I am going to give you all a chance to digest this post for a day before I post my next one, which was started Monday and finished yesterday. I also don't know how to do tildes, but I realize where they should be. Don't hate, appreciate.

For those of you who did not know, after one delayed flight and one missed connection, I made it into Madrid. I quickly walked through the airport (which was completely void of customs) and found the Metro station. I located a place clearly intended for insufficiently prepared tourists and asked (in Spanish) how to get to my hostel, Las Musas. Without skipping a beat the obvious native of Spain answered me in English. He did not even wish to try my Spanish prowess. Great! No habla espanol. Estoy en Espana. Se habla espanol. After thanking the man for his help, which I'll admit was definitely easier to comprehend in English, I boarded the packed subway leaving the airport. Remembering all the advice, I (with a massive suitcase and also oversized backpack) blended in seamlessly with all the native Spaniards in order to avoid theft and eventually reached Las Musas... the train stop. Shockingly enough there is more than one location in all of Madrid named Las Musas. After realizing my mistake I turned around and re-navigated the Metro to the correct destination. I had made it to Spain!

I learned a lot in Madrid:

I am immune to jet lag.

People go out at Midnight at the earliest, and get back at 7

Overweight men dressed in Spiderman suits get paid for pictures

Pan-fried cubes of fat are delicious

Bread is unforgiving to gap-toothed foreigners

Natives are nice and helpful, they just might not appear it at first

Euruba is the best beer in the world

An authentic and affordable Spanish dining experience can be found at "Burguer"

Watching a flamenco does not give the ability to dance one

Ham hangs from ceilings

Longboarding looks amazing here

El Greco hates photographs, but Picasso does not mind them

Pine trees are considered exotic

No bebes para olvidar, bebes para recojer

Crossing one arm across your body and placing the other hand thoughtfully on your chin gives the impression you understand the artwork

...and most important...

Your location enhances your experiences, but your company makes them.

I apologize for the depth of the last one, I struggle with even the shallowest levels of thought and emotion in Spanish so when I get to escape into English my mind needs the exercise.

In all seriousness. Christopher McCandless (or Alexander Supertramp) had it right, "Happiness is only true when shared." You can take in experiences by yourself, but it is exponentially harder to reflect on them by yourself. (Unless of course you have a blog, pen, pencil) The Plaza Mayor is amazing. It is as majestic and grand as one could hope. If I went there sin mis amigos, I still would have been drinking Sangria alone. Luckily, immediately upon arrival at my hostel, I met up with Chelsea and four other WMU students. A lot of the time we just walked around, there was so much to see. I saw where the Kings and Queens of Spain have lived, I went to el Prado, ate jamon cerrado al museo del jamon, and I danced gracefully en muchas discotecas. Sometimes, we made plans. They never worked out. I saw Carmen, which is a flamenco. I still cannot dance. Madrid is a city that never sleeps, much like I can assume most cities are. It was amazing, eye-opening, and a roaring good time, but three days has been enough. I want to feel sand between my toes, I want to taste the salty air, I want to sleep in a bed that isn't bunked. Tomorrow, I will be doing all that.

I leave for Santander at 1 tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Haven't Started Packing Yet

I know blogging hasn't been cool since 7th grade, just call me JT.

(A quick note to the older, and possibly only, readers of this (Mom & Dad): The line directly above this was a reference to the once popular song by pop-icon Justin Timberlake who made the claim he was "bringing sexy back." I cleverly, in a sort of metaphysical conceit, compared my own efforts to bring blogging back to his much more publicized efforts with sexiness. I can only hope my blog meets the lofty standards that I have just set with such a comparison.)

Real quick, this will be scattered... I will be leaving for the airport (I almost typed plane station) in just under 12 hours. The title of this post contains no fallacy. I have not started packing yet. Quickly calm the waves of panic that undoubtedly just flooded your veins, I am probably already on the plane. It's hard for me to start packing without wondering, is something so monumentally momentous always preceded by something so trivial? Everybody has been asking me if I'm packed yet like it is the most arduous, taxing endeavor I will be taking on in the next couple of months. Packing is putting underwear in a box, calm down. I long ago decided there were more important things to do before I left than pack. I even made a list. Last on the list: start blog.

Blog started...

I can't quell the notion that I am writing this to an audience of nobody. Well, nobody but me. I guess that is okay. This whole trip is intended to be about me. Except a few voyages to and through Canada, I have never been out of the country. Yes, Canada is a different country. After tomorrow I won't be able to say that. I always thought voyages to Europe were reserved for the rich kids, and I am far from wealthy. I am flying over the Atlantic Ocean tomorrow. I cannot begin to fathom what that truly means to the rest of my existence. I will be able to sit with my father during Bond films and go "Oo, I've been there!" during every other chase scene like he does. I can tell kids on my tours that I did study abroad, not that I am going to. I am going to Spain! This is going to be the grandest adventure of my still somewhat young life, and I haven't started packing. I'm an English major. I can find a metaphor here.
I want to be naked when I arrive overseas. Not in the physical, clothing sense, although anyone who knows me, knows I would not be completely opposed to that either, but in the mental sense. Naked to the world around me, with no barriers opposing experiences and feelings that I might otherwise enjoy. Stripped bare of preconceptions, of doubt, of ethnocentrism, of fear. I want to walk bravely into this new world: embrace its people, live its culture, taste its fruits. I want to be naked when I arrive to Madrid... but I can't. I need to pack. I might even be able to sleep tonight.

Make sure to let me know you're reading this. I will try to make sure I let people know when I post through as many venues as possible. If you create an account you can even follow me... I hardly know what that means. The prospect is definitely either cool or creepy, maybe both. Hang loose.