Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cold Soup and Hot Chocolate: The Ins and Outs of Spanish Cuisine

One thing you should know about living Spain is that their mealtime schedule is fairly different from ours.  For the most part, Spaniards eat a very small breakfast in the morning; mine usually consists of toast and coffee.  In my house, lunch is usually between 2:30 and 3:00.  Waiting that long for a full meal took some getting used to at the beginning of the semester.  Dinner is usually ready around 9:30, but I know some of my classmates don't eat dinner until almost 11:00 at night!  I explained to my host mom that in the States, I usually eat lunch around noon and dinner around 5:30 or 6:00.  She just looked at me with a surprised expression on her face and said, "How do you not die of starvation before bed?!"

Lucky for me, my host mom is a great chef.  I'm sure everyone is familiar with the stereotypical Italian mom/grandma who perpetually overfeeds her family.  Well, I'm here to tell you that Spanish moms are no different.  Sometimes I'll find myself sitting at the table with 5 or 6 plates that are all for me!  Everything I've tried so far has been delicious, but if I ate it all I wouldn't fit in my seat on the plane to come home. 

As someone who loves to cook, one of the things I was most looking forward to in Spain was all the new food.  So, this post is dedicated to some Spanish culinary staples.

First, paella.  I'm sure most people who have taken any Spanish classes or have had any exposure to the culture whatsoever have heard of this dish.  Paella recipes vary from family to family, but the basic ingredients are saffron rice, vegetables, and some sort of meat.  Standard paella is made with seafood, but it can be made with chicken as well.  If I had to compare it to an American dish, I would say it's like the Spanish version of jumbalaya.  The hard-core traditional señoras make it from scratch, but you can also buy a boxed mix at the supermarket with the rice and all the spices.  When cooking for large crowds, paella is usually made in a giant pan like the one on the left.  It's pretty impressive watching people lift these things.  In the picture, you can see the little window that they had to put in the kitchen because the pan wouldn't fit through the doorway.

Next, tortillas.  And no, I'm not talking about the ones you use to make tacos.  Mexican tortillas are the flat ones made of corn or flour.  Spanish tortillas, on the other hand, are more like omelets.  But you can't call them omelets either because that's a "French tortilla."  It's all really mixed-up.  (This became a cause for confusion between my host sister and I when we tried to make Mexican food together, because we were talking about two different kinds of tortillas.)  Anyway, a tortilla española (usually referred to as a tortilla de patatas--"potatoes") is basically just beaten eggs and potatoes pan-fried in oil.  It has a pretty bland taste, so sometimes people add different sauces.  My señora has even given me a tortilla de patatas on a sandwich--talk about carbs!

Alright, this one might be new for some of you--gazpacho.  In a nutshell--cold tomato soup.  It sounds weird, but it has become one of my favorite foods since arriving here.  Again, the recipe varies by region and from family to family.  My señora usually puts ham and hard-boiled egg in her gazpacho, and she even has cute little bowls to serve it in. It's a popular summer dish, because who wants to eat hot soup when it's over 100 degrees outside?

Okay, here's my last one.  Churros and chocolate.  These are nothing like the churros you get at street fairs.  There's really not much to them; they're just fried dough.  The important part is the chocolate.  It's super thick and rich and delicious, and it's served piping hot.  Some restaurants advertise that they have "Chocolate with churros" instead of the other way around.  Let's be honest, they know the churros are just a delivery system.  Once the churros are gone, most people just drink what's left of the chocolate, because by then it has cooled off enough.  Buyer beware: once you taste this, you will never want to go back to powdered hot chocolate...

Despite my new culinary experiences, I still find myself craving one thing.  SPICY FOOD! It honestly does not exist in Spain.  Someone asked the professor about it in our Culture & Cuisine class, and her response was "spicy things would kill us."  She claims that as a general rule, Spaniards' digestive systems are not equipped to handle spicy food.  My friends and I like to daydream every so often about coming home and getting Buffalo Wild Wings.

I can't wait to come home and test out some recipes!

Stay tuned for a later post where I explore the culture of Tapas...  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Time Warp

About three years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with my high school to Spain and Italy.  As a high school senior, having my favorite teacher take me and some of my best friends on a 10-day European adventure was the greatest gift I could have asked for.  We saw most of the main tourist attractions, and explored several large cities in a very short period of time.  After that short, 5-day taste of Spain, I knew I had to go back.  This past weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Barcelona with some of the girls from my program, and I was able to revisit some of the same sights from my first trip.

One of the major differences that I noticed between this trip and the last was that the city felt a lot bigger.  Now of course that will happen when you have to take the metro and walk everywhere instead of getting on a tour bus like we did three years ago.  Having to navigate the city on my own forced me to take in my surroundings a lot more thoroughly than I did the first time.  I feel like I was able to appreciate Barcelona more as a whole rather than focusing on the major monuments separately.

The first place we visited in Barcelona was Las Ramblas.  It's basically just one long pedestrian street filled with craft vendors and shops, and also an open-air market.  I was able to get around very easily thanks to my vivid memory; I even recall the weather being similar on both trips.

Top: My friends Vicky and Joey and I sitting on a bench at
Las Ramblas in 2011.  Bottom: Me at that same bench in 2013.

The one thing I was really looking forward to seeing in Barcelona was La Sagrada Familia.  The construction of this Basilica began in 1882 and is still ongoing.  The projected date of completion is somewhere between 2020 and 2040.  I was interested to see if there were any noticeable changes in the building from the last time I had seen it.  Its construction is so elaborate that it was difficult to note minor details, but I was able to see one of the facades that had been completely blocked off last time.  I still have never been inside, but I suppose that gives me a good excuse to go back again.

La Sagrada Familia 2013
Model of what La Sagrada Familia will
someday look like

One of the most exciting changes that I was able to see was one that I actually stumbled upon by accident.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, bullfighting is now against the law in the region of Spain that includes Barcelona.  When we came in high school, our tour guide told us that the city had made plans to convert the bullfighting ring into a shopping mall.  Of course, upon hearing this most of us wrote it off as a joke.  Why would they turn a cultural masterpiece into a mall?  Well, on one of our nights out in Barcelona, I found out that he was not joking.  What used to be the Plaza de Toros is now a 4-story shopping mall complete with movie theater and outdoor balcony.  We went up to the top floor and spent some time outside enjoying the view.    

Being in Barcelona, even if only for a couple of days, made me appreciate Sevilla even more.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my visit very much, but it made me realize that I made the right choice in deciding to study in Sevilla.  Both cities have their merits, but personally I like the smaller, homey atmosphere in Sevilla as opposed to the big-city bustle of Barcelona.  As I continue to travel around Spain and throughout Europe, I seem to feel at home coming back to Sevilla.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

When You Mess With The Bull...

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla
[Say that ten times fast...]
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do"--your typical travel motto, right?  Well when you're in Sevilla and you want to do as the Sevillanos do, one of the best things you can do is go to a bullfight.  It's not like the Flamenco dance shows or the city tours on double-decker buses.  Those kinds of things are tailored to the tourists, and personally I find that some of them can be a bit cheesy.  

I went to the bullfight with some classmates, and shortly after arriving, we realized that we had absolutely no idea what to expect.  We had this picture in our heads of what a bullfight "should" be like, and (SPOILER ALERT) we were fully aware that the bulls were going to die at the end.  Other than that, we were basically clueless.  We eventually recognized a pattern of events, but it wasn't until I did some research afterwards that I really understood the meaning behind what happened.  So, I'm going to combine my experience with a little supplemental background information to give you all an idea of what goes on during a bullfight. 

[Also, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents for giving me such an awesome camera.  All the photos you see on this post are ones that I took myself.  Thanks Mom and Dad!] 

The Players

Each bullfight has at least one Matador, and he is accompanied by two lancers on horseback, three flagmen, a sword servant, and several other assistants.  Bullfighting season begins in the spring, and normally the most experienced Matadors open the season, and as time goes on the Matadors are less experienced.  We had the good fortune to get tickets to one of the last bullfights in Sevilla.  It was a special festival, so there were two very experienced Matadors in this bullfight.

They are all dressed in custom-made suits that are hand-sewn and, consequently, very costly.  Some of the Matadors wear suits that are sewn with silver or even gold thread.  The type of suit worn denotes the role of each person in the bullfight.  The bullfight is split into three parts, and each man (yes, they're all men) has his specific job in each part.  

Part One: Tercio de Veras

The Tercio de Veras ("Lances Third") starts with the Matador observing the bull.  He waves his cape at the bull, causing it to charge so he can watch the bull's tendencies.  In case you were wondering, yes, the cape in the picture is pink.  Contrary to popular belief, bulls are not attracted to the color red--they are actually colorblind.  Rather, they are drawn to the movement and the sound of the fabric as the Matadors and his assistants wave their capes.  They switch to a red cape later, to avoid the blood stains being noticeable to the crowd.  Once the Matador has a chance to watch the bull and practice a few passes, a trumpet sounds the entrance of the Lancers.  
The Lancers ride in on horses that are covered in protective padding and blindfolded.  The bull is encouraged to charge at the horse so the Lancer can stab--I have yet to find a better word to use, so I apologize for the graphic description--the collection of muscle on the bull's neck.  We were all thoroughly impressed with the horses and how they were trained to just lean up against the bull as it pushes against them.  After the first loss of blood, the Lancers exit the arena.  This stage is meant to weaken the bull before continuing to run in the arena with just the Matador.

Part Two: Tercio de Banderillas

The "Flags Third" consists of three flagmen each attempting to plant two barbed sticks into the bull's shoulders.  Each set of flags is decorated with colors symbolizing the area where the bullfight is taking place.  In our case there were red and yellow for Spain, green and white for Andalucía, and red and white for Sevilla.  While the flagmen are placing the flags, the rest of the assistants run the bull around in the center of the ring.  At this point, the bull has lost a lot of blood, but is still very angry and makes strong charges at everyone in the ring.

Part Three: Tercio de Muerte

This is the "Death Third," where the Matador and the bull once again go head-to-head in the arena.  This time the Matador uses a red cape, and he also carries a sword.  He makes the bull pass by him back and forth several times.  They demonstrate their control and bravery by trying to get as close as he can to the bull.  The Matadors that we saw were experts; one would pet the bull as it ran past and even put his head on the bull's back at one point, and they both had blood staining the front of their suits when the fights were over.  The other objective of these passes is to maneuver the bull into a good position to drive the sword between its shoulder blades and through its heart.  The kill is meant to be swift, and if the Matador fails to properly insert the sword, the crowd will react.  This actually happened a couple of times during the fights we saw, and it was not pretty.  The Matador is given 15 minutes to complete the kill.   

In this photo of the Tercio de Muerte, you can see the banderillas
hanging from the bull's shoulders.  

After the bull has fallen, a rope is tied around its horns and it is carried out of the ring by mules.  This process repeats until six bulls have been killed.  During the bullfight that we went to, there were actually seven bulls, but the first one was sent away because it wasn't "fiesty" enough.  

Now, I know that everyone must be thinking about how cruel this is and how they shouldn't be killing these innocent animals.  Well, there is definitely a controversy surrounding this tradition.  In fact, bullfighting is now against the law in the Canary Islands and Catalonia (the region of Spain that includes Barcelona).  In southern Spain, it remains a long-standing tradition, and it is something the people look forward to.  We kept comparing it to a baseball game in the United States (complete with snack vendors walking through the crowds, rowdy fans, and the like).  All in all, I'm really glad I had the opportunity to experience this cultural marvel.     


Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Major Change of Pace

Of the six of us in the Teacher Development Program with CIEE, four of us are from the Chicagoland area, and one is from Boston.  We may not live in the city per se, but we have a basic understanding of what city life entails.  Even in the suburbs we see the effects of the morning and afternoon commute and the general hustle and bustle of busy life.  So naturally, knowing that Sevilla was one of the largest cities in Spain, I expected city life here to be pretty comparable.  Little did I know, aside from crazy drivers and the complexities of public transportation, city life in Spain couldn't be more different.  

In our CIEE student handbook and all of the pre-departure information we were given, they told us numerous times that the general pace of daily life was very different here than in the United States.  I expected as much; not every city can be like Chicago or Boston.  What I didn't realize until I arrived in Sevilla was that they really were not joking.  I have never seen a more relaxed city, and it's a beautiful thing.

One of the things we learned in high school when talking about Spanish culture is siesta.  Siesta is the spanish word for "nap," and what we learned from our textbooks was that it was a time during the afternoon where everyone takes a break and goes home to rest.  That seems simple enough--and sounds like a great concept to most high school and college students--but it's really a lot more than that.  From approximately 2:00 to 5:00, the entire city pretty much shuts down.  Shops, restaurants, and many other businesses close during this time.  People return to their houses to eat lunch, relax, and of course, take a nap.  I'll admit, I've indulged in my fair share of "siestas" in the last three weeks.  For me, it was (and still is) kind of a strange feeling to have nothing to do for that block of time.  I still find myself wanting to go shopping or something in the afternoon, only to remember that nothing is open.  Siesta is one of those parts of Spanish culture that doesn't seem to translate.  My orientation guide, Rafa, called it the "national sport" of Spain.  Brettyn, one of the girls in my program, talked to someone who didn't believe that we don't have siesta in the United States.  He didn't understand how Americans were portrayed as so busy and productive, but then he said it must be because we never sleep.  

As you walk the streets of Sevilla, one of the most common phrases you will hear people use is "no pasa nada."  It basically means "no big deal" or "no worries" (the "hakuna matata" of Spain, if you will).  It is pretty much the unofficial motto of the city.  They use it in all contexts: running late? no pasa nada; spill your drink? no pasa nada; forget something? no pasa nada.  Sevillans have a generally laid-back attitude with regards to most things, which was definitely something I needed to adjust to.  For those of you that know me personally, you can understand why.

My first real dose of this change came from the director of the Teaching Development program, Carolina (Caro).  During orientation week, we had several meetings having to do with housing, health and safety, and other subjects intended to help us adjust to our new surroundings.  During one of our academic sessions, Caro sat down with the six of us to talk about our goals for the semester.  When asked, we responded just like one might expect.  Things like "improve my Spanish" and "learn more about the Spanish culture" were obvious goals that we all shared.  After we had exhausted the list of all the things we wanted to learn and see, Caro told us that we had forgotten one very important goal.  We all looked around the room at each other at this point, trying to figure out what we could have possibly forgotten.  Caro took the dry erase marker and wrote in big, bold letters: DIVERTIRME (have fun).  That was something we weren't really expecting coming from the person who is in charge of our academic program.  She looked around at the expressions on our faces and smiled at us.  She said she was glad that we had thought thoroughly about our academic goals for our time in Sevilla, as that's the primary reason why we're here.  However, she also explained to us that this is going to be one of the greatest experiences of our entire lives, and that we need to enjoy it.  One thing that she said to us during that meeting will stay in the back of my mind throughout the semester: "If you're having fun, everything else will come naturally."  I know this sounds less-than-serious on the academic front, but in a way I think she knew that we're all serious students who know when it's time to buckle down and get work done.  She wasn't trying to turn our priorities around; she wants us to approach our learning from a different perspective--to live it.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sitting on History: Watching Textbooks Come to Life

In school, we spend most of our years of history/social studies classes learning and re-learning the same 400-or-so years of history over and over again.  Eventually, I think we get desensitized to it all.  So, the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, then we fought the British, then we fought ourselves, and 44 presidents later here we are.  The history of the United States is nothing more than a haiku when compared the extensive novel that is European history.  During my first two weeks of class in Sevilla, I am attempting to retain at least a general idea of the history of Spain--starting with the Roman Empire around 200 B.C. and ending with contemporary history of the 20th century.  It's a daunting task, and I know I'll walk away from this class with merely a short glimpse of the story of Spanish history, but there is still so much more to learn after the final exam.  After all, living in Sevilla, there are hundreds of years' worth of beautiful history right under my feet.

standing over an ancient Roman wall found under the streets of Sevilla

Let's start with the history that I encounter in my daily life here in Sevilla.  For example, the CIEE building where all of my classes take place is a renovated palace that was originally built in 1725.  They even still call it "el palacio" (the palace).  The University of Sevilla, also connected with the program, was established in the 16th century.  It was originally a tobacco factory, and it even says "Royal Tobacco Factory/University of Sevilla" on some maps.  Many of the monuments that I have visited so far with my orientation group and my history class pre-date what we learn in our history books in the U.S.  

aerial view of the courtyard at "el palacio"
Main entrance to the University of Sevilla

Some of the other places I've seen in my first two weeks here include the birthplace of Diego Velásquez, the tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the building that used to be a prison where Miguel de Cervantes was incarcerated and wrote part of "El Quijote," just to name a few.  Seeing these hints of history tucked around every corner of the city make me wonder what the future of the United States will be like.  Our country might be in its infant stage compared to most of Europe, but what will they say about us in another 500 years or so?  Will people tour the city of Chicago someday and view it the same way we view ancient Roman ruins?  Is our system of government going to be studied like we study the reign of the Roman Emperors or the Muslim Kings?  As I sit at my desk reading textbooks that tell the stories of the hundreds of years of history that came before me, the events going on throughout the world will write the history books for future generations.  

La Giralda was originally constructed as part of a mosque,
but was later converted by the Christians into
a bell tower for the Cathedral.  In this photo you can see
it situated between the Cathedral on the left, and the remaining
portion of the Mosque on the right.
Watching my homework come to life is an experience that I've never had in the past.  When we read about the Civil War, for example, there aren't many places we can go to completely immerse ourselves in that piece of history (other than museums, but that's too easy).  This past week, I learned about the Roman Empire's impact on the Iberian Peninsula, then visited the remains of an ancient Roman city later that same day.  Yesterday, we discussed the mixing of cultures that is so very common in Spain. By that afternoon, we had climbed to the top of a tower (La Giralda) that once served as part of the Great Mosque of Sevilla, but now is one of the crowning glories of the third largest Cathedral in the world.  The authenticity that seeing these monuments brings to the learning experience is invaluable.  I don't think I will ever be able to look at history the same way again, now that I have seen it come alive before my eyes.  


Friday, September 6, 2013

Cultural Adjustment

These last few days have been a whirlwind of travel and lots of walking to get to know my new city.  I have learned so much in such a short amount of time already.  I'm getting used to hearing and seeing Spanish everywhere, so much so that I actually have to concentrate to make sure I write this all in English.  After meeting all these new people and getting acclimated to a new culture, there is one thing I have learned this week that I really want to share with you all.

I knew when I arrived in Spain that this semester was going to push me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one.  I have to rely on a language that I haven't spoken in four months (and have never spoken extensively outside of an academic setting).  I'm living in a new city that I have to learn to navigate on my own when I've never really had to do so outside of the Chicago suburbs and the Bloomington-Normal area.  Everywhere I go I find something else that's different from what I'm used to: people walking in the middle of the street until they see a car coming, shops closing down for hours during the middle of the day, children running around in the streets in the middle of the night.  The list goes on.  The one thing that is sticking with me, though, is something that one of our Student Services Directors told us yesterday.  He gave some great advice for adjusting to a new culture.  Of course, when he told us this it was all in Spanish, and for some reason I think that made it sound even better, but I'll do the best I can to translate.

We were sitting in the university's bar--yes, there is a bar INSIDE the university where students can get something to eat or drink and sit and chat between classes--and our friend Abraham from CIEE was giving us a talk about diversity.  He pointed to the glass of coke in front of him and said, "When I look here, I see this side of the glass, but if Brettyn [the girl sitting across from him] looks at it, she sees the other side.  It's still the same glass, right? We just see it different ways.  It is what it is, no matter how you look at it."  So basically he was pointing out to us that every culture appears different depending on your point of view.  Being American, I am seeing all of these cultural differences from an outsiders point of view, just as a Spaniard in the U.S. would see our culture.  Instead of focusing on which side of the glass we are seeing, we need to choose to see the glass as a whole and appreciate it for what it is.

Abraham also reminded us that we will always be American, no matter how hard we try to fit in to the Spanish culture.  But instead of seeing it as a handicap, we should embrace the fact that we are here, in this moment, and make the best of it.  So instead of trying to adapt and become more like the Spaniards, my goal this semester is to allow the people and the city of Sevilla to open my eyes to all aspects of the culture.  And although I can't adopt them as my own, I can respect and appreciate them just the same.  Living in Sevilla will not make me Spanish, but it will make me a better student, teacher, and a more culturally aware person overall.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Planning and Counting

After almost 3 years of planning and preparation, my departure date is just around the corner!  When I first began the college selection process, I was one of the lucky few that already had decided on a major.  Knowing I wanted to major in Spanish Education, the topic of study abroad came up fairly quickly.  No sooner had I set foot on the beautiful Illinois Wesleyan University campus than I began researching study abroad programs.  At a university where almost 50% of the student body participates in some sort of study abroad, I had plenty of options to choose from.

Because I am a Hispanic Studies major, I am required by the university to spend one semester studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country.  To narrow it down, I already knew I wanted to go to Spain.  After getting a taste of the Spanish culture during a short trip in high school, I just had to go back.  Eventually I happened upon the CIEE Teaching Development Program, and I knew it was the perfect program for me.

The program is located in Sevilla (that's SAY-VEE-UH for you non Spanish-speakers), the fourth-largest city in Spain and the capital of the Andalucía region.  As far as square-mileage goes, it is about the size of Detroit, with a population comparable to the city of San Francisco.  The CIEE study center is in the heart of the city in a beautiful palace that was built in 1725.  My homestay family lives about a mile outside the city center.

I'll wrap up this first post with an overview of my program.  The Teaching Development program consists of 3 core classes and a teaching practicum.  The core classes I will be taking include: Cultural History of Spain, Psychology of Learning a Second Language, and Professional Teaching Development.  The classroom teaching opportunity that goes along with this is a 12-week program.  During the first six weeks, I will be working as a teacher's aide in an English class.  The following six weeks will require me to teach my own small class of English as a Foreign Language.  Although I have already spent two semesters in classroom and tutoring environments as a part of my home university coursework, I am beyond excited for these new opportunities.  

Among my family and friends, I am famous for my countdowns.  Waiting for this trip has been the most agonizing countdown by far.  I can still remember first being accepted into the CIEE program and telling my mom, "6 months from now I'll be in Spain!"  Then when I got home for summer vacation it turned into, "4 months from now I'll be leaving for Sevilla!"  As I sit here writing this entry, I am thrilled to say--much to my mom's dismay, I'm sure--